New capital bill a very squirrelly affair

By Paul Schmitt

Tony Dawson, junior in ACES, sat through another boring anthropology lecture in the balcony of Foellinger Auditorium, legs stretched over the back of the seat in front of him and an empty notebook at his side. It was another typical day in another typical class period until a ceiling tile fell to the seats below, striking the edge of the balcony on its way. Stories like this would be more appropriate in the decrepit Lincoln Hall, where students being struck by ceiling tiles isn’t an uncommon affair. Unfortunately, for the fear of its victims and the entertainment of Tony Dawson, the ceiling tile wasn’t a ceiling tile at all, rather, it was a squirrel.

Twenty minutes, hundreds of excited students and a cancelled class later, the squirrel was still being frantically corralled around the auditorium and students were chatting about the much-needed renovations to our proudest campus buildings. While the quality of these buildings has drastically diminished with the passing of decades and thousands of students, these structures remain valuable tools for the education of students and beautiful landmarks for our stoic quads.

How does a broke state garner the funds for such costly renovations and upkeep? “CAPITAL BILL!” These cries for casino-funded projects come from all needy state agencies, such as the University, and also from act-now, think-never Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich – you know, the guy from the I-Pass? While a capital bill is necessary to keep squirrels off of students and tiles glued to ceilings of campus buildings, the state of Illinois should think long and hard about the consequences of expanded gambling.

Being a proponent of personal responsibility, I think citizens of Illinois ought to be able to handle themselves at the craps table and choose whether or not they want to direct their disposable income toward winning big at a casino. However, as former state Sen. Rick Winkel has argued, casinos do prey on vulnerable citizens and eventually produce more costs for the state than revenues. All moral, fuzzy nonsense aside – have we really hit rock bottom in the state of Illinois to a point of relying on casinos to pay for our needed projects?

The answer varies, but essentially goes like this – “no, we’ve hit ‘Rod-bottom’ in the state of Illinois and after five years of terribly irresponsible governance, a fleet of Chicago, land-based “Casino Queens” is our bailout. With bad budgets, overwhelming Chicagoland spending and a raise in every fee from here to eternity, the governor’s mansion has earned itself a 1.5 percent GSP growth rate (2006, less than half of the national GDP for the year) and a No. 44 ranking by Forbes for the “best states for business.”

Looking over these facts, one might just suspect that the poor governance is bad enough. A gander at the Oct. 5 edition of the Sun-Times, however, shows that the governor isn’t just a proponent of his programs, rather he also is vindictive toward those who disagree. House Speaker Michael Madigan’s chief of staff, Tim Mapes, wasn’t the first to feel the brunt of the Blago vendetta, however, he quickly learned the reality of it when he found that his wife had been fired by the governor’s administration, losing her desk, red Swingline and $102,000 a year salary. Perhaps Mr. Mapes is now reconsidering his advisement to Speaker Madigan during this summer’s “whose is bigger” showdown in Springfield between the speaker and governor.

Weren’t there days when the state was in the black, when casinos floated along like they always have? Weren’t there days of surplus, times when everyone loved the governor? There were. Those days fell under Gov. Jim Edgar, who, surprisingly enough, was not a Democrat from Chicago. Without reminiscing too nostalgically, it seems that there could definitely be better leadership from above, and with it, better alternatives to a capital bill funded by snake eyes and stacked decks.

Looking at the issue from my seat in Lincoln Hall, I’ll keep my eyes out for ceiling tiles now and perhaps trade later for solid governance.