Illinois governor calls special session, lawmakers yawn

By Christopher Willis

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Nearly two-thirds of Illinois legislators skipped a special session ordered by Gov. Rod Blagojevich this weekend, leading one lawmaker to note “signs of irrelevance” surrounding the governor.

Blagojevich responded by criticizing the General Assembly and ordering another special session for Monday – when lawmakers are already scheduled to meet.

The Democratic governor is locked in an impasse with lawmakers over a new state budget. State government is operating only because officials passed a one-month budget when the new fiscal year began July 1.

But that temporary budget expires Tuesday, and Blagojevich wants lawmakers to pass another one-month extension while budget talks continue. He ordered lawmakers to meet Saturday to consider the idea.

Legislative leaders, however, are working on a budget for the full year and report that they’re making progress. As a result, few lawmakers were interested in Blagojevich’s push for a temporary budget.

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About one-quarter of state senators showed up for Saturday’s session. Less than half of House members made an appearance. Neither chamber devoted even a second of discussion to a temporary budget.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said he wouldn’t call the response disrespectful to Blagojevich. “I think it indicates that there’s a majority of the House that simply is not responsive to the governor’s desires,” he said.

Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said the indifference to Blagojevich’s special session and his exclusion from budget talks demonstrate his shrinking role in Springfield.

“There are signs of irrelevance,” Brady said.

Blagojevich issued a statement saying he was disappointed. “If the General Assembly does not finish its work soon, the people of Illinois will pay the price of their inaction,” he said.

He ordered another special session on a one-month budget for Monday.

A budget extension would remove the pressure for quick action by lawmakers. That would give Blagojevich more time to build support for his plan to guarantee health insurance for everyone in the state.