SPRINGFIELD — Illinois taxpayers will foot the daily expense for a legislative special session, but Gov. Pat Quinn could pay the political price.

By Diane Lee

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois taxpayers will foot the daily expense for a legislative special session, but Gov. Pat Quinn could pay the political price.

Quinn plans to hammer out a special session date on Wednesday at a meeting with legislative leaders, leaving lawmakers hoping he won’t repeat former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s approach of calling lengthy and generally unproductive special sessions.

Even fellow Democrat state Sen. John Sullivan, of Rushville, said Quinn would be wise to avoid Blagojevich’s approach.

“I think it has a potential to be a very productive special session, as opposed to Blagojevich, when he would call it for some goofy reason that nobody really understood and probably, including him. And nothing got accomplished,” said Sullivan.

Retired state Rep. Bill Black, who served during the Blagojevich years, said he has faith in Quinn.

“It is not to Gov. Quinn’s advantage to keep (lawmakers) over there,” Black said. “Downstaters always said, ‘This is county fair time, and legislators have to get re-elected. And you don’t get re-elected if you don’t go to the county fairs, and buy the grand champion rabbit or grand champion pig, or go to the queen contest and shake hands.'”

Quinn this past week said he will call a special session this summer to address Illinois’ $31 billion statewide construction plan. The multi-year program is in trouble, said Quinn, because lawmakers did not act on new projects set for 2011-2012. Money for those projects was tied-up in a statehouse game over the state budget.

The state House sent a $33.2 billion budget to the state Senate. But Senate Democrats, upset over budget cuts, added $430 million for human services and education and tied that extra spending to the annual reauthorization of the statewide construction plan.

Because lawmakers did not authorize the spending, Quinn warned lawmakers that summer construction would halt, unless lawmakers returned to approve funding for these capital projects.

But state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, said once lawmakers are back in Springfield, it will be tough to limit the special session to just the extra spending and the construction plan.

“That became the circus of Rod Blagojevich, where we were in (special session) more days than any other time in the history of the General Assembly, because there were so many issues outside of just the budget that had to be solved,” Mautino said. “I’d hate to see that happen.”

In 2007 and 2008, Blagojevich called a record 26 special sessions to consider issues ranging from comprehensive ethics reform to a temporary, one-month budget for the state chronic renal disease program.

Blagojevich overused his power in calling special sessions, so he lost credibility with lawmakers, said Kent Redfield, political science professor at University of Illinois-Springfield.

“Special sessions came out of him not being able to build a cooperative relationship and being confrontational,” Redfield said

In 2009, lawmakers voted to impeach Blagojevich and he now awaits a verdict in his second trial on federal corruption charges.

Blagojevich wore the crown for calling the most number of unproductive special sessions, but Quinn may be the opposite, Sullivan said.

“Many members didn’t show up, but there would always be a few that would show up. They simply wouldn’t even come to Springfield, so that was an indication of the lack of respect for (Blagojevich),” Sullivan said. “I think if Gov. Quinn, again, calls us back into special session to address reappropriation on the capital bill, I look for there to be a large turnout, because it is an important issue for everybody in the state.”

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1 Comment

  1. Capital projects

    Halting capital projects would be a major mistake.  The capital bill plays a critical role in the Illinois economic recovery process.  With more than 400,000 Illinois workers depending on jobs from the capital bill and millions of dollars of Illinois investment projects on the line, state legislators must work together to ensure the capital bill moves forward with full implementation.  To learn more about the capital plan and its impact, please visit http://www.backtoworkillinois.com.

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