Blagojevich threatening to lay off 90% of state police force
By Mike Riopell and Kurt Erickson
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Rod Blagojevich is threatening to lay off 1,800 of the state’s roughly 2,000 Illinois State Police troopers in January unless lawmakers approve key budget legislation soon.
“We simply can’t pay some of our bills,” Blagojevich spokesman Justin DeJong said Thursday.
The administration, which has been battling with lawmakers over the state budget for 10 months, didn’t deny that the move could have a devastating effect on the state’s crime fighting force.
“There’s no question the impact would be great,” DeJong said.
The threat, however, was viewed as a yet another pressuring tactic by Blagojevich in a year filled with discord between himself and his political nemesis, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
The second-term governor wants Madigan to call for a vote on a budget measure that would assure the state can pay troopers, as well as distribute added money for public schools and other state services.
Although lawmakers have approved a budget, separate legislation that gives the administration the authority to funnel it to specific programs has been held up as a bargaining chip over other issues, including a massive expansion of gambling that would pay for a $13 billion statewide construction spending program.
The infighting among Democrats who control state government didn’t let up Thursday.
In separate action, the Democrat-controlled Senate voted to restore less than $8 million of the more than $460 million in cuts Blagojevich made to the budget in August.
The move restores money for legislative agencies, courts and the auditor general, but not for scores of local projects and programs that were earlier restored in the House.
The action brought catcalls from Republicans, who were powerless to stop the move.
“What is happening is just wrong,” said state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville.
State Rep. Gary Hannig, a Litchfield Democrat and Madigan’s chief budget negotiator, said he understands the need for the budget legislation. But he described talk of laying off state troopers as “scare tactics.”
“It doesn’t get too many people excited to say that maybe we’ll have to park a police car or two starting in January,” Hannig said. “So you want to come out with the most horrific, worst-case scenario that you can possibly come up with.”
The idea of mass layoffs also appeared to take Senate budget negotiator Donne Trotter by surprise.
“I haven’t heard that,” said Trotter, a Democratic senator from Chicago.
Trotter also suggested the governor’s threat could be a scheme to prod the General Assembly into action.
“There are always those pressures that individuals put forth,” Trotter said.
While Blagojevich was talking about cutting 90 percent of the state police force, Republicans on Thursday attempted to convince Madigan that a similar meltdown awaits school districts if the budget implementation legislation isn’t acted upon.
“School districts have planned for this money,” said state Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville.
“Why would we starve our school districts over this silly political fight?” added state Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.
The GOP effort, however, fell short, leaving millions in added funding for districts in the same political limbo as money for the state police.
“Now is the time to stop the political games,” said state Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro.