THOMSON - The Carroll County RepublicanCentral Committee hosted their annual Fall Round-Up at Buck's Barn in Thomson Thursday, September 11, and welcomed their featured speaker, Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross (R-84, Plainfield).
Cross was first elected in 1992, and is considered one of the Republican Party's brightest stars. He is pursuing an "Agenda for Action in Illinois" that includesfeatures liketax relief, ethics reform, and an advocate in the fight against domestic violence and sexual predators.
Cross was available to the media before the event, and State Senator Tim Bivins (R-45, Dixon), and Republican nominee Lawrence Bruckner (Thomson- Representative District 71) shared their views. State Representative Jim Sacia (R-89, Pecatonica), and Mike Bertelsen (Aledo-Senate District 36) were at the Round-Up, fresh from the Special Session occurring in Springfield last week.
Bruckner started the press conference, commenting on a WGN radio interview with Gov. Rod Blagojevich. "What did the governor have to say?," asked Rep. Cross.
Bruckner said, "Asked what he could do better regarding leading the state, he stumbled and stumbled, then Blagojevich said 'I'm going to keep the prices for senior citizens the same on the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority).' That's what he's going to do."
Cross said "One of the things we're doing, and this is the first place we've been since yesterday, is that we are going to challenge the Speaker (Mike Madigan), the president of the Senate (Emil Jones), and the Governor, to get a Capital Bill done by October 1st. There has been a lot of talk over the last year and half, the House Democrats say they want one, the Senate says they'll pass one over to the House and it never moves, the House send one over to the Senate, and it never moves . . . it's called the 'Legislative Two-Step.'
"We've got unemployment as high as it's ever been, and this is an opportunity to put 500,000 to 700,000 people to work, and access to $9 billion in federal money, and the needs are huge all over the state."
Cross said that Sept. 10, Speaker Madigan told him he was committed to sending a portion of the bill over to the Senate, but added, "My challenge is, we all know what the issues are, we know what the needs are, we know what the available revenue streams are - let's all pick one, let's all sit down, and let's be done by October 1.
Cross said some people were suspect about the meeting, that it was just a political stunt. He said no one knows whether or not the Senate will be called back to session, but Jones has the power to do it, adding that the Senate has actually done a better job than the House with the Capital Bill. "But I say to all 3 of them, let's get it done."
Governor's Closing of State Parks and Historic Places
(Left to right) Sen. Tim Bivens, House Republican Leader Tom Cross, and candidate Lawrence Bruckner hold a press conference before the Thursday, Sept. 11 Fall Round-Up at Buck's Barn in Thomson. (PA photo Tom Kocal)
The first question posed was in regards to the governor's proposal to cut funding to several state parks and historic sites. Sen. Bivins and Sen. Brad Burzynski (R-Clare) co-hosted an open forum about the plan Sept. 10 at the Oregon Coliseum in Oregon to brief the public about budget cuts announced Aug. 28 by the Governor's office. The forum gave the public an opportunity to comment about the cuts, which will close 11 state parks, most of them in northern Illinois, and 14 states historic sites.
"We had nearly 1000 people attend the forum," Bivens remarked. "The Coliseum was packed. They came from Geneseo, Pearl City, Elizabeth, DeKalb, Chicago, Rockford, Sycamore - all over the region. It was amazing hearing the stories of the economic impact this will have on the area and its people."
Bivens said that just Lowden and Castle Rock State Parks combined for over 400,000 visitors last year. "You can imagine the economic impact if those 400,000 visitors don't come next year."
Bivens was asked if the 5 closures in his district were just a coincidence. "There are a lot of them in Republican districts," Bivens replied. "I wouldn't say it was a coincidence. We had 5 targeted in the 45th District alone. This didn't have to happen."
Bivens said the Governor has $25.4 million in discretionary funds to keep the parks open. Highly suspect to Bivens was the timing of the announcement. A spokesman with the Governor's office said they had been working on this issue for 2 months.
"I never received a call the day they closed from IDNR or the Governor's office. The closings came at the last big weekend of the year - in my estimation, for maximum impact. You can read into that what you will about his intent."
Another "highly suspect" action taken was that most of the closings, eleven State Parks and 13 Historic Sites, were in districts of predominantly Republicans, and also Sen. Mike Jacobs (D-36, Moline), "who has taken the Governor to task and try to hold him accountable. It's just highly suspect that these are the areas chosen to be cut."
"It's just another example of the Governor not doing any long-term planning," said candidate Bruckner. "It's like the prison situation - first he's going to close Joliet, then Pontiac, - there's no long-term planning, or system, to what he does. This causes disruption and hurts state employees, it hurts morale. Who wants to work for a state government when they don't know if they'll have a job or not? It's the same type of game he played with the 4-H program. Here in Carroll County, we have 70 volunteers and one paid employee, and he wanted to take our one paid employee. Talk about leverage! And he wanted to destroy it.
"It's a pattern of poor business planning. We want the government to run like a business, and be responsible to people and their needs."
Cross said the blame should go to all three Democratic leaders, Speaker of the House of Representatives Michael Madigan, Senate President Emil Jones and Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
"While the Governor made these cuts, the Senate and the House, with Democrat votes, not Republican votes, passed an unbalanced budget. They readily admitted that it was unbalanced. They're behavior has been called 'dysfunctional.' I think that is the wrong term. I think they're behavior is reckless. To pass an unbalanced budget that borders on $3 billion, then to start affecting people's lives that work for the state, and the businesses affected from an economic standpoint - hotels, restaurants, gas stations - that's reckless behavior. Dysfunctional is too nice a word."
"The State Constitution states we should have a balanced budget," said Bruckner, who is also an attorney. "It's not just reckless, it's unconstitutional what was passed."
The Medicaid issue discussion
Bivens said that the state owes almost $2 billion to Medicaid providers, and that Illinois is #1 in the country with late and delinquent payments to these providers. "It's a scenario that we don't want to be #1 in," Bivens stated. "Deadbeat Dads go to jail if they don't pay child support. We're the State of Illinois, we should pay our bills."
Another problem is inverified claims with Medicaid. Providers agree that a Verification System is needed. One provider told Bivens of a couple living together that had a combined income of $90,000 and had healthcare coverage from their employers, yet had a Medicaid card.
"A simple verification process would save the state millions, if not billions of dollars every year," Bivens said.
Cross remembered action taken by former Gov. Jim Edgar, who used to take state revenue growth every year, and use the new money to pay down the Medicaid liabilioty. "Blagijevich has never done that," Cross stated. "What he's done is sort of a double-whammy. He's expanded Medicaid, so the rolls go up. And he hasn't used any real money to pay it down, so he ends up having to borrow and paying interest. The reforms are real. But instead of starting new programs with money that's come in, let's take care of existing issues. Spending in this state since the Blagojevich administration has taken over has increased by over $6 billion dollars in six years. We've balanced budgets by not paying Medicaid, and short-changing one of the worst-funded pension systems in the country."
Cross said revenue growth has been slow, but in the past several years, Illinois has received $600 to $700 million in new dollars every year. But existing obligations have been ignored.
"It's not a money problem, it's a spending problem," said Bivens.
Asked how the proposed sale of the Illinois Lottery system would affect funding of Illinois' education system, since revenue from the Lottery has funded programs in the past, Cross said there are various proposals on the table being considered, and leasing the Lottery is one of them.
"Every legislator is concerned about the issue. There are drafts floating around that would create enough of a pot of money to be sure we don't go below the amount normally provided to education, and whether pro- or con- on the Lottery issue, every legislator is concerned about the possible shortfall."
Bruckner said that some are saying that 20% of the sale amount would be earmarked for education and that it would maintain the current spending. "I don't believe it, but that's the story Madigan is coming out with to blunt that criticism."
"If we lease it, you've got to find a mechanism that makes sure you don't lose that amount of money to public schools," Cross said.
How will the State of Illinois change with Madigan, Jones, and Blagojevich at the helm? Cross said the mixture of these three legislators is so volatile, that "They can't be there. It may take one of them being gone, or all 3 being gone. They hate each other. I'm not telling you anything out of school. They will not sit in a room together. One of the reasons we have an unbalanced budget, and no capital bill, is because they wouldn't sit down and reconcile the numbers, the revenue and the spending. For whatever reason, they can't do it."
What about the Thomson Prison?
"You don't know with this Governor from day to day. He lacks leadership skills. The Governor's leadership style is reward and retribution," Bivens said. "He rewards those who follow his lead, and gives retribution to those that don't. That's not leadership. The Democratic majority has squandered their opportunity to do great things the past six years. But it's now a reactionary government. He operates on emotion. Who knows what will happen with the prison?"
"If the prison doesn't open," Bruckner said, "a civil rights suit will be considered to protect the guards and prisoners. It would force the state to spend the money to do this. This action will be considered after the November election, if he double-crosses us for the fourth time. Isn't four times enough?"