Blagojevich sightings a rarity in Springfield
Governor there under 200 hours in three months
Monday, June 18, 2007SPRINGFIELD - Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his staff have a way of saying things that could just make your jaw drop - and they haven't passed up chances for some of those moments recently.
In particular, the holier-than-thou calls from the governor's staff demanding that legislators put in more days in Springfield, have been hard to fathom.
That's because Blagojevich is so rarely in Springfield when the General Assembly - made up of people he wants to pass his programs - is in session.
"Everyone in America works five days a week and is expected to put in full-time work in order to complete their jobs," top spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said after one meeting of the governor and legislative leaders. "We think it's important for lawmakers to be here five days a week as well."
Oh, and Deputy Gov. Sheila Nix urged lawmakers into more action than scheduled, speaking to reporters on June 4, after the May 31 target deadline had already been passed.
"The General Assembly needs to take action, not just engage in a three-day work week without progress," she said.
State Rep. Jack Franks of Woodstock, a Democrat who has not been shy about criticizing the Democratic governor, lambasted Blagojevich on the House floor last week.
"His absence during the legislative session and his disdain for the legislative process has put many Illinois families in crisis," Franks said, saying later that the governor's call for five-day Springfield sessions is "tantamount to lunacy," when Blagojevich's own schedule is reviewed.
"His hypocritical stance on the House's work ethic is insulting," Franks said.
Well, I thought I'd try to look at some facts to back up the idea that the governor just isn't in Springfield much. And records of his state flights provide a pretty good look.
The Illinois Department of Transportation provided me with a list of Blagojevich flights on state aircraft from March 1 through June 8 - the most up-to-date I was able to get. I had asked for everything since the beginning of March because the governor's budget address was March 7. That's when he asked for his plan for universal access to health insurance and a gross-receipts tax - which would generate billions of dollars and constitute the largest tax increase in state history - to pay for it.
In the more than three months listed, the records show the governor spent five nights in Springfield, and was physically in the city for just under 200 hours including those nights. I am assuming his only visits to Springfield were on state planes, and I have no evidence otherwise.
He was physically in the city on parts of 25 days, but on 15 of those days, his airport-to-airport time was less than seven hours. And on one of those days, the Springfield presence was just a 15-minute stopover between Harrisburg and Moline.
Among other findings:
- One of the overnights was in anticipation of the State of the State address. He arrived at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport at 2:20 p.m. March 6, and left at 5 p.m. March 7, the day of the speech.
- The next overnight was May 8-9, as he testified in the House to a committee of the whole hearing on his gross-receipts tax. He arrived in Springfield at 8:15 p.m. May 8, and left at 6:25 p.m. May 9. May 10, when the governor was not in Springfield, the House voted 107-0 against a resolution backing the GRT. Hours before the vote, the governor boldly issued a statement asking backers of the plan to vote against his own program because it was nonbinding and a vote would be premature.
- Other overnights were May 14 (first lady Patti Blagojevich had a mock news conference at the Executive Mansion with fourth-graders from Harristown the next day, which could explain that flight); and May 30 and 31, leading up to the last day that Democrats alone could have passed a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. As of June 1, a 60-percent majority is needed for most bills to be effective in July.
- Other trips from and back to Chicago, with times in Springfield calculated from arrival at Springfield's airport to departure from there, included: March 13, 12:45 p.m. to 6:25 p.m.; March 22, 11:40 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; March 28, 1:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.; April 18, 7:20 a.m. to 7:05 p.m.; April 24, 12:05 p.m. to 5:55 p.m.; May 2, 11:55 a.m. to 6:25 p.m.; May 16, 12:20 p.m. to 6:20 p.m.; May 22, 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.; May 24, 12:25 p.m. to 5 p.m.; May 25, 12:05 p.m. to 5 p.m.; May 28, 3:05 p.m. 8:15 p.m.; May 29, 12:25 p.m. to 6:40 p.m.; June 5, 1:40 p.m. to 6:40 p.m.; June 6, 12:50 p.m. to 4:50 p.m.; and June 7, 11:25 a.m. to 2:50 p.m.
The governor's office pays IDOT for flights based on mileage under a system that has come under criticism for not nearly covering costs, though the agency has said it doesn't really try to recoup all costs from other parts of state government because that would merely be transferring money within the government. But Mike Claffey, IDOT spokesman, said the agency is working on a revision of the rate structure.
The governor's office pays a per-passenger government-business rate of $61.91 for one-way flights between Springfield and Chicago's O'Hare Airport, Claffey said, while it pays $59.86 for one-way flights between Springfield and Chicago's Midway Airport. Campaign flights are billed more, but the governor took none in the time I reviewed. I did not receive information on what other passengers were on the state planes.
Claffey said that billing is only done for the time the passenger is on the plane. He confirmed that in the case of the governor, a round-trip from Chicago to Springfield and back really involves four one-way flights. The state aircraft are based in Springfield, so the plane used must fly to Chicago to pick up the governor to bring him back to Springfield. After the return trip to Chicago, the plane must return to Springfield where it can park in hangar space.
A recent report by Auditor General Bill Holland put the real operating cost of King Air twin-engine planes, the kind most used by the governor, at $9.81 per nautical mile. Thus, the real cost of a one-way Springfield-to-O'Hare trip, at 151 nautical miles, would be $1,481. The real cost of a one-way trip to Midway, at 146 nautical miles, would be $1,432.
Not including a handful of helicopter trips on the March 1-June 8 logs, the governor took 21 one-way trips between Springfield and O'Hare, which would amount to $31,101 in real costs. The 13 one-way trips listed between Springfield and Midway would come to $18,616.
That's more than $49,700 in just more than three months - and it doesn't count the miles those planes are flying without the governor on board as they go to pick him up or return to their hangar space. Adding those miles would double the amount to nearly $100,000 for those King Air flights alone.
Hey, maybe the governor travels to Springfield so seldom because he's decided to become a penny-pincher. But I wouldn't bet on it.
Springfield lawyer David Reid, 56, has been named by Gov. Blagojevich to be one of the seven judges of the Illinois Court of Claims. The court is where people go to sue the state for monetary damages in many situations, but not worker compensation claims.
The part-time position pays $50,893 and requires Senate confirmation. The governor had appointed him back in 2003 to be a commissioner of the court - which is akin to a hearing officer.
Reid said the court meets at least six times per year, and there's lots of paperwork in between.
Reid, who has his own legal practice in the same building where his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Strow, has her dermatology practice, said he's a lifelong Democrat, but thinks his good job as a commissioner, and not campaign contributions to the governor, are the reason for his promotion. He gave Blagojevich $1,000 in 2002 and $250 last August. He also quipped that his wife is a lifelong Republican, and balances the ticket.
Reid is also brother of Jack Reid, an official with the Laborers International Union who in a past political life was campaign manager for Democrat Dawn Clark Netsch's 1994 gubernatorial run.
The chief judge of the Court of Claims, also appointed by Blagojevich, is Robert Sprague, who is also Democratic county chairman in St. Clair County. Reid fills a vacancy left when Rose Lipinski, mother of U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Chicago, left the job.
Condolences to friends and family of former state Rep. Marcel "Bob" DeJaegher, a Democrat from Silvis who was in the House for a dozen years. He died Wednesday at age 83 at a medical center in Silvis.
He served in the Navy in World War II, and had been Hampton Township supervisor and a Rock Island County Board member before becoming a House member by winning a race in 1982 against a Republican who had been appointed to fill a vacancy several months earlier - now-U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood of Peoria.
In 1988, he was House sponsor of legislation sponsored in the Senate by John Davidson of Springfield to set up a statewide program to report abuse of the elderly. He also created a health clinic as part of his township government.
DeJaegher also "sort of left public life" to take care of his wife, Vera, for several years before her death when she was stricken with Alzheimer's disease, Jacobs said.
U.S. Rep. Phil Hare, D-Rock Island, called DeJaegher "one of the hardest-working public servants I have ever known. He was a tireless champion for working men and women and a wonderful advocate for senior citizens."
Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 788-1540 or firstname.lastname@example.org.