Blagojevich seeks budget endorsement

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Gov. Rod Blagojevich, never shy about using taxpayer resources to push his agenda, is once again marshaling state employees to build backing for his budget proposals, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The administration is contacting social service providers and advocates to drum up support, officials confirmed, raising concerns among some that the groups could feel pressure to back the governor.

The documents show agencies are encouraged to fill out “endorsement forms” and are provided with a sample letter of support they’re asked to put on their own letterhead and send back to the state.

A Blagojevich spokeswoman said the administration merely wants to publicize the governor’s proposals, which include a $300-per-child family tax credit and one-time 20 percent business-tax cut, expanded health care access financed by a $417 million employer payroll tax and a $25 billion construction plan.

Agencies being contacted might include those who receive state funding, spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said.

An e-mail from Blagojevich’s Department of Healthcare and Family Services, obtained by the AP, encourages the recipient to complete an attached “endorsement form,” which instructs it be returned to the governor’s office.

It includes a “Here is how I can help” box with options such as speaking to the media or at a press conference as a supporter, sending letters to legislators and newspapers or volunteering at events.

“We have also been asked to obtain testimonials from people who are struggling to make ends meet and would like to share their story with the governor’s office,” continues the e-mail.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to rally support for your ideas, said Jay Stewart, executive director of the Better Government Association. But the governor’s communication only allows for a positive response – no opportunity for dissent.

“Given the history of the state of Illinois, you can’t pretend that isn’t a concern,” Stewart said.