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Illinois special session starts today; will cost thousands a day



Springfield, Ill. – Illinois lawmakers return to Springfield today (Thursday) for a special session that Governor Rod Blagojevich has called. He wants them to be in the capitol every day until a budget is passed, even though there's little for them to do.

Negotiations on the budget mostly are between the top leaders in each chamber. The state started its fiscal year last weekend with only a temporary budget that will fund government through July.

Blagojevich's decision to convene a special legislative session means the state will start spending thousands of dollars a day trying to break the impasse over a multibillion-dollar budget.

The Democratic governor says it's worth the cost to increase pressure on lawmakers to reach a budget agreement. Besides, he argues, any lawmakers who object are free to return their expense checks to the state, reducing the cost of the special session.

But to many lawmakers, it makes no sense for rank-and-file lawmakers to spend seven days a week in Springfield when Blagojevich and the legislative leaders are nowhere close to reaching a budget deal. They also point out that Blagojevich may say they can give up their expense checks, but he doesn't have to pay for hotels and meals out of his own pocket, as they do.

While Blagojevich had been making daily round trip flights from Chicago to Springfield costing taxpayers about $5,800 a day he plans to stay in Springfield for the duration of the special session, spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, Blagojevich informed House Speaker Michael Madigan that he would not attend Thursday when the House meets as a single committee to consider the governor's proposal to privatize the state lottery. Madigan earlier this week had asked the governor to stay for the entire hearing and answer questions throughout.

"I must confess that I believe you are more interested in playing games and taking solutions off the table than trying to find solutions to solve real problems," Blagojevich wrote in a letter to Madigan. "So I will not be attending your Committee."

Members of Blagojevich's administration and financial experts would be available to testify at the meeting, the letter said.

Calls placed by The Associated Press to Madigan's office went unanswered Wednesday.

Blagojevich's call for a special session does two things: It means lawmakers will meet every day instead of the usual three days a week, and it entitles lawmakers to collect expenses again. Their expenses were cut off when the legislative session went past its May 31 adjournment date.

Here's a look at the costs of a special session, as estimated by Senate Republicans. Some of the costs would be incurred during regular session, but the special session would create extra days of other expenses:

- Legislators' lodging and meals: $22,125 (177 lawmakers at $125 a day). Seven extra days a week.

- Legislators' mileage: $5,876.

- Chicago staff's lodging and meals: $4,200 (40 staffers at $105 a day). Four extra days a week.

- Chicago staff's travel: $1,520.

- Doormen (20 at $125 a day): $2,500. Four extra days a week.

- Sound technicians (four at $100 a day): $400. Four extra days a week.

In all, without the governor making daily flights between Chicago and Springfield, a full week of special session would cost taxpayers about $211,400 compared to about $28,600 if lawmakers continued meeting just three days a week.


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