Monday, August 06, 2007

We pay for gov's poor leadership - BUDGET BATTLE | While pols sit idle, other services -- like the CTA -- neglected

We pay for gov's poor leadership - BUDGET BATTLE | While pols sit idle, other services -- like the CTA -- neglected
Co[yright by The Chicago Sun-Times
August 5, 2007

Since Gov. Blagojevich spends more time in Chicago than Springfield, surely he has noticed what is a recurring sight: a broken-down CTA bus.

There isn't a day lately that I haven't seen at least one. A couple of weeks ago, in fact, there were 51 that broke down at rush hour. Fifty of those 51 were 1991 vintage TMC buses with 600,000 miles on them. They should have been taken out of service four years ago when they hit 12 years of road wear, but, lacking a capital replacement budget, the CTA hangs on to them even though they cost three times more to maintain than a newer bus.

When I asked Ron Huberman, the new head of the CTA, about all the broken buses I've been seeing, he told me that whenever he spots one, he makes it a point to pull over, introduce himself to stranded, frazzled passengers, and apologize.

What do they say back?

''People aren't sure where to focus their anger,'' Huberman said.

A far bigger, broken-down bus is the Illinois General Assembly and the chief executive who's at the wheel of what passes for a legislative process in this state.

The summer of our legislative discontent is quickly rolling into what promises to be future seasons of despair in Springfield.

Blagojevich, a politician who in person and in public can charm the socks off a snake, has from the very beginning of his first term in 2003 shelved his considerable people skills in favor of alienating just about everyone he needs to get something of significance done in Springfield.

From the moment he took office, he began cutting himself off, demonizing legislators of both parties for spending ''like drunken sailors'' and inexplicably refusing to return phone calls from fellow governors or even Illinois' senior U.S. senator, Dick Durbin.

Blagojevich made it clear from the beginning that he was going to go it alone. A solo player, the ultimate visionary populist.

There is no better example of that than his announcement early this year that he would push for universal state health care funded by a gigantic gross receipts tax on business. His proposal came out of the blue and was met with deafening silence.

Had Blagojevich prepared anyone for that idea during his 2006 re-election campaign?


Had he built a bipartisan consensus or engaged the business community in discussions to prepare the way for such a grand plan?


Had he galvanized public support in behalf of it?

No. No. No.

And yet, today, the governor hangs onto his health-care plan like a life preserver on the Titanic, last week threatening a shutdown of state government if he doesn't get his way, as other state services risk being thrown overboard.

There are icebergs ahead, one of them being the next two years' worth of pension payments that make this year's look like small change.

And, in addition to already unpaid Medicaid bills and struggling schools, there is the looming question of infrastructure. Last week's collapsed bridge tragedy in Minneapolis is not a Minnesota problem, it's our problem too, a warning of a ticking time bomb that, like so many other urgent needs, has been deferred because of a lack of smart legislative strategies, wise spending and, above all, leadership in finding a dependable, equitable source of new revenue.

Rod Blagojevich doesn't take all the blame in this battle. House Speaker Mike Madigan is no altar boy, nor is Senate President Emil Jones. And the Republican leaders have no halos.

But somewhere, I don't know where, a collective sense of statesmanship needs to be summoned by the egos at the top and most particularly by the governor -- not just to navigate the next few months, but the next few years.

Like passengers stuck on a busted bus, people may not know exactly where to focus their anger. But they're figuring it out.


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