Ill. governor’s trial delays action on other woes

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) âÄî While the Illinois Senate zeros in on Gov. Rod Blagojevich in a historic impeachment trial, other vital state issues are being shoved aside. There will be no discussion of how to fill the enormous budget deficit that is delaying payments to hospitals and pharmacies. No early start on next yearâÄôs budget. No work on a huge public works program that would create jobs during the economic downturn. âÄúUntil we get this taken care of, it is very, very difficult to think that weâÄôre going to concentrate on revenue, spending, programs and all of that,âÄù said Republican state Sen. Dan Rutherford. Then, there are the problems created by the governorâÄôs legal difficulties. After Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on corruption charges that included scheming to sell President-elect Barack ObamaâÄôs vacant Senate seat, the stateâÄôs bond rating fell, costing it an extra $21 million in interest on a loan to pay overdue bills. But the trial, scheduled to get under way Jan. 26 and finish by Feb. 4, could bring quick progress to Springfield. BlagojevichâÄôs removal would instantly raise the possibility of new agreements at the Statehouse, where he and legislators have bickered more than governed for the last couple years. âÄúI believe if Lt. Gov. [Patrick] Quinn would take over, he knows that heâÄôs going to have to sit down and work together with the other leaders,âÄù said state Rep. Robert Rita, a Democrat. Quinn said if that happens, heâÄôll move âÄúrather swiftlyâÄù to strike a deal with legislative leaders to fix the stateâÄôs problems. But in the meantime, the drama surrounding Blagojevich stymies progress and the financial toll mounts. The state is $3.6 billion behind paying its bills to hospitals, pharmacies and other service providers, forcing some businesses to close their doors or turn away Medicaid clients. The stateâÄôs unemployment rate climbed to 7.3 percent in November, meaning more people may need government aid to buy food and get health care. And the overall budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30 has a hole of $2.5 billion or more. Already, Blagojevich has closed seven state parks and 12 historic sites, and more cuts may be needed to close the deficit and get ready for next yearâÄôs equally tight budget. Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias said the state will earn only $130 million in interest on its investments in this fiscal year, compared to $376 million last year. That could shrink to $86 million, or perhaps even lower, in the upcoming year.