Monday, August 13, 2007

The Other White Meat

In response to the budget recently overwhelmingly passed by the General Assembly, Governor Blagojevich stated that, "It's got so much pork in it that if you were to hold the budget document itself, you'd probably be unable to hold it because it's so greasy."

I think that the Governor's statement is understandable in that the 'pork demon' is one that is easily sold to the general public.

But it's not really accurate. The concept of 'member initiatives' is rooted in the belief that legislators are best situated to know the local needs of their districts. To the extent that a legislator can direct funding for a laudable purpose that can withstand public scrutiny, I believe that it is a legitimate part of the budget making process.

The public scrutiny aspect is key to this argument. This year, 3 of the 4 legislative caucuses (HDem, HRep, SRep) listed all member initiatives as line items in the budget so that they can be easily viewed. In furtherance of this transparency, all of my projects are listed at the end of this post. My initiatives consist of funding for local schools, libraries, and a grant to the local YMCA, which does some great things in the district.

For the Governor to generalize all initiatives as 'pork' is misleading and duplicitous. This is the same Governor who gave $1,000,000 for a minor league baseball stadium in downstate Illinois 'on a spur of the moment decision'. And while that grant may be justified, I am sure that the Governor did not refer to it as 'pork' at the time.

In a related twist, and something that is no fault of the Governor's, earlier this year, I introduced, and passed out of the House, HB473, legislation that I worked on with Sen. Obama's office to provide transparency in state grants and funding. The bill is modeled on Sen. Obama's federal earmark transparency bill which has received widespread attention and acclaim. (The bill shows up as a Rep. Bradley bill because I transferred sponsorship in order to get around the bill limit.)

My legislation passed the House 116-0 and has languished in the Senate for months. Until last week that is.

That's when the Senate Executive Committee gutted the bill and reduced it to a shell. I asked the Senate sponsor of the amendment why the action was taken and was derisively told that they desperately needed the bill as a vehicle for budgetary purposes. (It was never used for that purpose. Surprise surprise.)

I find it incredibly ironic that legislation that I worked on with Sen. Obama's office would be eviscerated by the very chamber in which he used to serve.

In any event, I do not have high hopes that the member initiatives are going to survive the still-unfolding budget process. If they don't, I'll leave it to the Governor to explain to the schools near his house that the new books and computers that they need are simply 'greasy pork'. I just don't see it that way.

As mentioned above, here are the line items that I requested be placed in the budget:
Page 975, Section 144. The sum of $30,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue fund to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for a grant to the Lakeview YMCA for capital repairs and community room development.

Section 145. The sum of $25,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for a grant to Chicago Public Libraries for the Lincoln Park branch.

Section 146. The sum of $25,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for a grant to Chicago Public Libraries for the Lincoln/Belmont branch.

Section 147. The sum of $25,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for a grant to the Chicago Park District for Lakeview High School campus playlot renovations.

Section 148. The sum of $25,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for a grant to Chicago Public Libraries for the Wicker Park/Bucktown branch.

Section 149. The sum of $25,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for a grant to Chicago Public Libraries for the Sulzer Regional branch.

Page 1066, Section 63. The sum of $25,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Lane Tech High School.

Section 64. The sum of $25,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Lakeview High School.

Section 65. The sum of $30,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Mayer School.

Section 66. The sum of $25,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Lincoln Park High School.

Section 67. The sum of $30,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Waters School.

Section 68. The sum of $30,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Prescott School.

Section 69. The sum of $30,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Coonley School.

Section 70. The sum of $30,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Jahn School.

Section 71. The sum of $30,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Hamilton School.

Section 72. The sum of $30,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Abraham Lincoln School.

Section 73. The sum of $30,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Agassiz School.

Section 74. The sum of $30,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Alcott School.

Section 75. The sum of $30,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Drummond School.

Section 76. The sum of $30,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Audubon School.

Section 77. The sum of $30,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Bell School.

Section 78. The sum of $30,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Blaine School.

Section 79. The sum of $30,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to the Illinois State Board of Education for a grant to Chicago Public Schools for Burley School.

7 Comments:

At August 13, 2007 at 3:46 PM, Blogger Cook County Cretin said...

"The public scrutiny aspect is key to this argument."

I would not begrudge your constituents that money. But then there is: "Chicago State University, long-known for being a recipient of state dollars because of the support of Senate President Emil Jones, received more than $7.4 million for specific projects, including $1.5 million for the convocation center named for Jones and his late wife, Patricia."
What an insult to the taxpayers of Illinois.

 
At August 13, 2007 at 9:48 PM, Anonymous Disgusted said...

Here's a novel idea. Pay the state's bills first and use any money left over for "member initiatives". The skin on these pigs must be very thick and tough if they can't seem to understand that the voting public and taxpayers have had ENOUGH!!!. The next legislative election should be very interesting.

 
At August 14, 2007 at 12:45 AM, Anonymous Vasyl said...

I generally agree with the idea that "pork" is in the eye of the beholder, and I completely agree that they way the 3 caucuses you mention handled member initiatives is best.

But I still think there is a problem with member initiatives (or earmarks) that is not addressed by the legislation. Keep in mind that many legislators these days -- both federal and state -- have pretty secure jobs. The turnover in legislatures is much more a function of retirements than of an incumbent going down in defeat. So, the scrutiny that many of these earmarks will receive is greatly diminished.

But even for targets (legislators from swing districts), there remains an incentive to fight for earmarks. One curious consequence of the federal rule is that many targeted congressmen now proudly tout the number of earmarks they have obtained. No one wants to be attacked for not bringing back the bacon -- even if bacon is just a form of pork.

Maybe in Illinois it will be different, especially if each member is given the same allotment. On the other hand, I'm not too certain that each district needs the same amount of discretionary funding from the state -- this then simply becomes another advantage for an incumbent.

The solution, of course, is to elect honest people, who believe in efficient government. These are people who will use earmarks fairly, for the public good over the political benefit.

 
At August 14, 2007 at 9:06 AM, Anonymous lake county democrat said...

I too don't begrudge constituents money, but it would be a lot easier to swallow if your districts weren't so gerrymandered. Disclosure isn't enough: you all are the product of a system designed to minimize representative government (and you do it with Congress too -- Guitierrez' bizarre C-shaped district is a spit in the face of democracy). These earmarks may indeed be in the public interest, but I have no way of knowing what projects got turned down (or didn't bother to ask) or would have got more under a fairer system.

 
At August 14, 2007 at 9:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rep. Fritchey,

I think that each and every one of your items are great.

The problem is that for every legislator like you who helps fund schools and libraries, you have a handful who put $$ into projects that are much more dubious.

I think that the problem isn't the grants, it's some of the people that get elected. (Glad I live in your district though)

 
At August 15, 2007 at 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last time you all were up for reelection, they set aside millions of our taxpayer dollars to fund such needed youth programs as hip-hop classes that were attended by a handful of kids. Member initiatives are designed, for the most part, as one thing only - a pay off to the many "not-for-profit" (and supposedly nonpartisan) groups that do little good in our many communities. Meanwhile, our infrastructure is crumbling right before our eyes. I won’t even begin to talk about the gross under funding of pension obligations, and how little your colleagues have done to address an issue that is going to haunt this state for the next few decades to come.

This entire session is one shameful example of the lack of leadership in this state after another.

Too bad the voters will have little choice or debate on the direction of this state. There are few, very few, things that I would be proud of if I were a legislature. Your friend Rep. Black might just have it right. A mass turn over in our legislature would be good for our state.

The ‘pork’, no matter how much transparency is given too it, is indefensible if the general state of affairs is not addressed. It may get your colleagues reelected, but that doesn’t serve the needs of this states residents.

 
At September 18, 2007 at 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always happy to see someone of such power supporting schools, any school.

Rod of shame on the pork generalization. Word.

Keep up the good work.

 

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