Lawmakers getting out of dodge

For some time now, Gov. Blagojevich has been getting the lion’s share of the blame for the mess in Springfield. His absenteeism, his penchant for PR over progress and his cold relationship with many lawmakers have definitely extended a dark cloud over the state capitol.

But late Saturday night as lawmakers quickly passed a new budget before the midnight deadline, the other pivotal player in the worst soap opera in state history displayed the same fecklessness that has so troubled the governor.

Defending a budget that by some estimations is $2 billion out of balance and asked about how that gap will be reconciled, House Speaker Mike Madigan was quoted by the Chicago Tribune as saying, “That’s a decision for the governor to make. The legislature is not involved in spending decisions.”

Really?

Apparently, it is involved enough to decide which projects get appropriations to begin with. This kind of word-parsing is almost on par with ludicrous spin coming from the governor’s office earlier this year that tried to convince Illinoisans that there was a substantial difference between “cutting” funds for soil and water conservation programs and the UI Extension Office and “withholding” the funds.

The governor endured weeks of heavy negative publicity before releasing the those funds. To see such a spectacle again might be what Madigan is hoping for.

By forcing the incredibly unpopular governor into trimming the budget instead of passing a balanced budget to begin with, Madigan and other lawmakers surrender whatever high ground they may have held up to this point.

While the governor may have been asking for it, given his tenuous relationship with Madigan, the speaker’s moves smack of politics especially given the rumored gubernatorial run by his daughter, state Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this latest budget saga, it is that the legislature shares much of the blame for Illinois’ dire financial straits. While lawmakers were trying to avoid another overtime session by passing a sloppy budget, it seems that they were more interested in buying a vacation.

Illinois taxpayers may not have to pay lawmakers overtime this year, but they will definitely be paying somehow down the road.