In the hyper-overreactive world that is the Illinois Statehouse, every move made by every major player is analyzed to death to see who is zooming whom. Speaker Michael Madigan's Illinois Gaming Board reform plan is a case in point.
Madigan unveiled his proposal last week. And while the idea has drawn praise from reformers like the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, it includes language that looks designed specifically as a jab at his political nemeses.
For instance, Madigan's proposal would ban all contacts about Gaming Board matters between the Board and the governor's office, state Senators and Senate staff, but not a word about Madigan's House. Zing.
Madigan appears determined to make it very difficult for Senate President Emil Jones to score a casino for the Indiana border area near Chicago. It's been rumored all year that Jones was helping pals of his in that region, to the point of specifically excluding a competing area near the border backed by allies of a rival, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.
At first, Madigan rejected any new casinos outside Chicago's Loop, which was also seen as a shot at Jones. But Madigan has lately relented, sources say, and as I write this he is just about ready to support one additional boat. Madigan apparently wanted to make sure that neither Jones nor Blagojevich could unduly influence the siting of that additional casino, which explains why he put that "no contact" language into his reform plan.
And then there's Madigan's proposed process of appointing an all new Gaming Board, which Madigan has said is an essential precondition of his support for a new casino plan.
Under Madigan's complicated proposal, the Illinois Supreme Court would appoint a panel of experts to choose a pool of candidates for the Board from which the governor would pick his nominees. Besides the obvious and glaring statement of mistrust of the governor's appointment powers and the Senate's Constitutional advice and consent, Madigan, as state Democratic Party chairman, has been involved in the selection of Supreme Court justices. He actually ran the campaign of one justice, Thomas Kilbride.
So, while Madigan may be moving forward with a gaming proposal, he has done so in a way that has likely insulted his political opponents. Typical.
Also, Madigan has so far refused to agree to a demand by the other legislative leaders that several hundred million dollars in "excess" cash raised by any new casino legislation be directed towards operational expenses for schools. The provision was included in a Senate-approved bill and Gov. Blagojevich also supports the idea.
There are several "explanations" floating around out there, but the two most often mentioned are that Madigan's proposal won't raise as much upfront money as the other plan, so the cash won't be available for schools (and so the governor and Jones can't claim a big "win" on this topic), or that Madigan wants the money to be used to fund most of his members' projects vetoed by Gov. Blagojevich earlier this year.
Madigan is just chock full of games these days. The House Speaker unveiled a new budget implementation (BIMP) bill last week that took a big swipe at Governor Blagojevich.
School advocates were saying last week that if the "BIMP" bill didn't pass by Friday then more than 700 school districts across the state would see reduced state aid payments next month. The BIMP also provides new money for schools in the form of a higher "foundation" level and more money for special education reimbursements. Madigan has declined to pass a Senate-approved BIMP bill because, he says, Senate President Jones violated a budget agreement during the summer overtime session. Jones points the finger of blame right back at Madigan.
But with the pressure on, Madigan couldn't resist playing another game.
Buried on page 25 of Madigan's alternative BIMP bill was language that authorized Secretary of State Jesse White to make grants to "units of local government, school districts, educational institutions, private agencies, not-for-profit organizations, and for-profit entities." The grants under White's control would cover education, transportation, construction, capital improvements and social services.
In other words, Madigan essentially wanted to give Secretary White the powers normally delegated solely to the governor and his agencies.
Thankfully, Madigan withdrew that proposal and submitted another one without the above language. But it gives you an idea of how far things have gone this year.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com