House votes to overturn bulk of Blagojevich’s budget vetoes

By Ryan Keith

SPRINGFIELD- The Illinois House on Tuesday overturned most of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s more than $460 million in budget vetoes, continuing a yearlong battle between top Democrats over the state’s spending priorities.

Lawmakers on the House floor turned public anger from weeks of statewide hearings into a lengthy lambasting of the cuts Blagojevich made to the budget in August. The House voted 104-4 to override hundreds of the vetoes, then quickly voted 105-4 to overturn many more.

But the votes ultimately could be symbolic. They now head to the Senate, where President Emil Jones reiterated Tuesday his vow to block any efforts to overturn the governor’s cuts.

House officials said the votes overturned all of the governor’s vetoes except about $39 million, mostly for state agency expenses. Blagojevich’s office called the votes expected but predicted they wouldn’t mean much in the end.

Both Democratic and Republican House members chastised the governor for cutting programs and projects he had called unnecessary spending. They said the move hurt social service providers, colleges, veterans homes and other advocates and accused the Chicago Democrat of playing political games with the cuts and slashing much-needed state money for his own agenda.

“What he cut is ridiculous, makes no sense and hurts a great many people,” said Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, R-Des Plaines.

The move adds more fuel to the bickering among Blagojevich, Jones and Madigan that led to this summer’s legislative overtime session, the longest in the state’s history.

With Blagojevich determined to adopt his plan to provide health care coverage to all Illinoisans despite a lack of legislative support, the four legislative leaders ultimately cut a deal on a full-year spending plan without him, and without the health care plan he wanted.

Blagojevich fired back by cutting the budget and promising to use the money instead for health care. He said the cuts were legislative pork, unnecessary spending and projects that could be funded in a separate construction plan.

House members questioned whether he had the legal authority to spend money on such programs without legislative approval. They also hoped the fiery push to overturn the cuts would pressure the Senate to follow suit, despite Jones’ promise.

“The governor does have the right to use his amendatory veto pen, and we have the right to say that he’s incorrect and override him,” said Rep. Gary Hannig, a Litchfield Democrat who pushed for overturning the cuts.

Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said the House vote wouldn’t stop the administration from moving ahead with its plans. She said the administration will work with legislators to fund programs and projects they want but not at the expense of health care.

“It’s certainly not a secret that some members of the House don’t share our budget priorities,” Rausch said. “This is all about budget priorities.”