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Illinois Democrats flexed muscles in passing out pork in Springfield

Dan Petrella, Jeremy Gorner and Ray Long, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

House Republican leader Tony McCombie of Savanna said she was “shocked” at the extent of the partisan breakdown in the current budget.

Republican Rep. Dan Ugaste of Geneva, who recently joined McCombie’s political leadership team, chafed that Democrats overplayed the spoils of victory.

“I understand there’s majorities and minority parties, and the majorities (are) always going to see a bit more on their side. But to shut the minority out is just the wrong thing to do,” Ugaste said. “It’s not just Republicans in my district. There’s plenty of Democrats in my district.”

Former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar — who led the state throughout much of the 1990s and first won election to the Illinois House in 1976 — said in an interview that he had never seen a more one-sided distribution of local legislative projects.

“If you’re excluding Republican legislators on these projects,” Edgar said, “then you’re excluding geographic areas in the state from getting anything, and I think that’s a mistake.”

The process of doling out pork in Illinois and determining which lawmakers asked for the money and for which projects can be infamously opaque. Democratic Senate President Don Harmon of Oak Park and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside declined multiple requests to explain how and why they divided the public money the way they did, leaving it up to the Tribune to sort through reams of budget and agency documents to match up lawmakers and their district projects.

 

Even when approached at the Capitol last week, Welch directed questions to his spokeswoman, Jaclyn Driscoll, who had previously said answering such questions would be little more than “responding to Republican talking points.”

“You cannot be the party of voting ‘no’ on a budget, refusing to work with the majority party and simultaneously complaining about a lack of public dollars going to your community, while overlooking the hundreds of millions of dollars that actually are,” Driscoll wrote in an email.

McCombie called the Democratic position “absolutely ridiculous.”

“For them to say that we were not wanting to be a part of the process, it’s a lie,” McCombie said. “That’s not true.”

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