Budget now in Jones’ court

By Ryan Keith

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Case closed. Or is it?

All eyes are now on the Illinois Senate and President Emil Jones as they decide what happens with more than $460 million in state budget cuts made by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to restore most of the cuts, and the Senate will decide their ultimate fate.

Jones has left some wiggle room.

He originally said “case closed” when Blagojevich announced the budget vetoes, vowing to block any effort to override them. But lately he’s been more coy.

“Things change,” Jones said Tuesday. “I may change my mind.”

Some Senate Democrats are banking on that possibility as pressure builds for action and they turn up the heat up Jones to drop his opposition to the veto overrides.

“You have to be able to stand up to your leadership when they’re wrong, and in this case my leader’s wrong,” said Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline.

Blagojevich cut programs and projects that he deemed were legislative pork or spending that wasn’t as important as the universal health care plan he wants funded instead. State employees and advocates for a variety of interests responded by lobbying hard for lawmakers to restore the cuts.

They point to a list of painful results from the vetoes.

There is no funding for cost-of-living pay increases for developmental disability care workers, cuts in hundreds of state employee positions the Legislature added this year, millions of dollars lost by hospitals and nursing homes and scaled-back after-school and social service programs.

A rally at the Capitol Wednesday drew hundreds of state employees and advocates who want the Senate to follow the House’s lead.

About a dozen Senate Democrats joined Republicans and officials with employee unions and advocacy groups to urge senators to again support the projects and programs they originally included in the budget.

“If it’s good enough for the House, it’s good enough for the Illinois Senate,” said Henry Bayer, Illinois director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.