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With no one in charge, Illinois grinds to halt

The scandal involving Governor Blagojevich is delaying key budget decisions.

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In addition to the gridlock on the budget and other important legislation, the governor’s legal troubles have already cost the state at least $20 million in additional interest payments, when the state postponed a bond sale by several days immediately following Blagojevich’s arrest. In the interim ratings agencies downgraded Illinois’s debt rating. Standard & Poor’s put the state on a negative credit watch, due in part to Blagojevich’s legal troubles and the degree to which they’ll hinder efforts to solve the deficit problem.

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“Before, [Blagojevich] was ineffective, but we weren’t at absolute gridlock. Now, nothing can get done,” says state Rep. Jack Franks (D), a frequent critic of the governor.

State deficit at $5 billion

The budget deficit is currently almost $5 billion, he notes, schools don’t know how much money they’ll have next year, and a much-needed capital-spending bill that would help create jobs and fix crumbling infrastructure doesn’t have a hope of getting passed until the governor is gone.

Perhaps most troubling, the state is behind on Medicaid and other healthcare payments, so many doctors have stopped taking new Medicaid patients, pharmacies aren’t filling prescriptions, and there’s a danger that some nursing homes and pharmacies will be forced out of business.

“This [scandal] is not something that’s in a vacuum,” says Representative Franks, who hopes the impeachment process will be nearing an end by the end of January. “Right now the people of Illinois are suffering in many ways.... It’s a domino effect throughout the entire state government.”

Professor Simpson, who teaches at the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois, says that the school has been told it will either have to make a 2 percent or 6 percent budget cut next year. “We can absorb 2 percent, but 6 percent means we fire people,” he says. “If someone were in power and were doing something about it, we’d know what our cut was, we’d have a plan that’s reasonable to project what to do next year, and we could always hope that someone would do something useful about trimming other parts of the state budget. The uncertainty means that every employee has to worry about their job.”

Blagojevich’s office didn’t return calls, but the governor has stated that he is continuing to do his job, and each day his office issues press releases of bills he has signed and the sort of gubernatorial announcements and proclamations that are the everyday stuff of government.

Move to name senator shocks many

Many Illinoisans were stunned by Blagojevich’s move to name a US Senate replacement, since one of the central charges against him was that he had tried to “sell” the seat to the highest bidder.

“We can’t take much more around here,” says Dawn Clark Netsch, a professor emeritus at Northwestern University’s law school and a candidate for governor in 1994. “We’re not the only state in trouble, but ours is pretty serious. We just don’t need all this business on the side.”