We take a closer look at and seek reaction from lawmakers to Peoria-area projects declared 'pork' by the governor in his vetoes Thursday.
Nearly a half million dollars for a cancer center at the University of Illinois College of Medicine survived Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s sweeping vetoes Thursday.
But millions of dollars in other member initiatives — such as money for road work, technology infrastructure, water main replacement and emergency sirens — did not.
"The governor has portrayed these as frivolous spending; pork has such a bad connotation. These are legitimate projects that have come to me," said state Rep. Mike Smith, D-Canton, who had all of his projects potentially cut. "I think it makes sense that I can help direct where state resources can go in my district better than going through some bureaucratic grant program or other funding mechanism."
Blagojevich on Thursday filed his anticipated veto of portions of the $59 billion state budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. The remainder of the budget, however, now will take effect.
Included in Smith’s requested $600,000 in initiatives is $100,000 each for technology infrastructure for an emergency operations center in East Peoria, sidewalk repairs on Derby Street in Pekin and a new truck for sewer maintenance in Canton.
Some lawmakers are saying the cuts are political posturing and are pitting one caucus against another.
"I was surprised at the governor’s action. It’s clearly a political move," said state Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, whose projects were saved from the chopping block. "I certainly appreciate the projects that I fought for funding for, but I’m not sure it’s really fair that my colleagues’ constituents are shorted."
Schock secured $250,000 for the Methodist Medical Center Foundation for Peoria Cancer Center programs and funding for social service agencies including Neighborhood House and Friendship House.
Though Blagojevich wants to cut more than $141 million in what he calls "pork" projects, there are several ways the money could be re-instated, including if both the House and the Senate approve an override.
Bartonville Police Chief Brian Fengel said his department hopes for $50,000 to buy two sorely needed new squad cars to replace ones with high mileage. If the money isn’t allocated, said Fengel, "We’ll just have to live within our means and our budget."
All of state Rep. David Leitch’s requests, including $400,000 for the cancer center, an $80,000 storm water project in Spring Bay and money to volunteer fire and ambulance departments for equipment, was left untouched. He said the process is far from over.
"It gets stranger and stranger every day this year. I hope (initiatives) hold up, but I wouldn’t recommend spending them because who knows what’s still going to happen," Leitch, R-Peoria, said. "This session long, long ago went into Never-Never Land."
Leitch acknowledges some initiatives shouldn’t pass muster, but said in this area legislators are "very responsible for what they give money for."
State Rep. Dan Rutherford, R-Pontiac, said his initiatives, including a total of $200,000 for two separate Area Agencies on Aging offices, survived.
"I think that senior citizens in other parts of the state are just as important as senior citizens in my district and should have had equitable treatment," Rutherford said. "I’m a little concerned at what appears to be selective amendatory vetoes."
Karen McDonald can be reached at (309) 686-3285 or email@example.com.