Blagojevich hiding behind grandmothers

By Daily Illini Editorial Board

Like a bad soap opera, the secrets and unwelcome surprises continue to flow out of Springfield. For weeks now, the state legislature and Gov. Rod Blagojevich have faced off as the futures of vital state operations hang in the balance. The Chicago Transit Authority, threatened by funding shortfalls, has been poised to dramatically cut service and raise rates in a “doomsday” slated to come Jan. 20. But the governor’s most recent actions smack of the same kind of politics that have dramatically undermined our confidence in state government.

After negotiations were stalled by little else except the egos of our legislative leaders, the Illinois House and Senate finally came to an agreement last week that would provide an additional $500 million for the Regional Transportation Authority with millions more for downstate transit districts, much like that of Champaign-Urbana.

But even after months of wrangling and two temporary (and methodically questionable) bailouts, the new agreement was thrown into doubt after the governor, using his amendatory veto powers, changed the plan to mandate that all senior citizens would be allowed to ride public transportation in Illinois for free.

Blagojevich, seemingly trying to appear magnanimous, asserted that because the bailout would be funded by a regional sales tax rather than his favored plan of using funds generated by the state’s gas tax to cover the cost, he would sign the bill only with this provision included. The problem, though, was that no one knew about it until now.

The governor admits he did not consult with legislative leaders or district administrators about the plan. But why keep this proposal a secret for so long if he cared about it so deeply?

At an appearance at a Chicago church on Sunday, Blagojevich defended his plan to the congregation and asked, “How many of you agree with me that it is the right thing to do to give your grandmother a free ride on a bus? Are you with me or am I by myself?”

It’s unfortunate to say that people shouldn’t be surprised by the governor’s cavalier behavior. But because it appears that Blagojevich is now hiding behind grandmothers to justify his financially tenuous amendment, it’s worth questioning just how low the bar can get.

Left behind, as usual, are downstate lawmakers who hoped to get a much-needed capital construction bill off the ground by linking it to the bailout. The outlook for that, along with the possibility of the situation in Springfield getting any better, now looks bleaker than ever.