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The smoke is starting to clear from last weekend's legislative session in which our public servants engaged in another of their patented, last-minute, bill-passing frenzies.

It will surprise exactly no one that, in the midst of all the carefully pre-planned confusion, legislators didn't know exactly what they were voting on, except that it is all in the best interests of the tax-paying public.

Would that it be true.

There was much in the $40 billion budget and the $45 billion capital bill that will only become public knowledge after it's too late to do anything about it.

For example, in what was described as some sort of legislative snafu — an error, an accident — legislators voted to raise their pay by $1,600 a year.

Asked if he would use his line-item veto power to excise the pay raise that by some mysterious manner spontaneously generated in the 2019-20 budget, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he absolutely will not.

The governor explained that the budget was the result of intense negotiations between himself and legislators and that he will change nothing.

OK, so the accidental pay raise that no one is taking legislative credit for was negotiated?

Well, that's their inconsistent story, and it will not get better.

Then there is the $45 billion capital bill that Pritzker and legislators assured everyone will go exclusively to rebuilding our state's "crumbling infrastructure."

Every penny, they contended, will be devoted to the most dire capital building needs.

For starters, $45 billion is a lot of money. People's eyes often glaze over when it comes to numbers like this because they're difficult to put into context.

So here's a little context.

"To get a sense of the enormity of that number, consider that it's over twice the state's combined annual revenue from personal and corporate income taxes. It dwarfs all previous capital spending programs. The Illinois Jobs Now capital plan under Gov. Pat Quinn was for $18 billion in new projects and $11 billion of re-appropriations from previous years. Gov. George Ryan's Illinois FIRST was for $12 billion. The Build Illinois program under Gov. Jim Thompson was $2.3 billion," writes Wirepoints' Mark Glennon.

In other words, it's enough money to choke 10 horses, so much that keeping track of it all will be well nigh impossible.

Much of it, of course, will go toward worthy projects, highway improvements and school buildings on university campuses. But local legislators will be proposing what are called "member initiatives," and they'll send money to support people and programs that make the most noise.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown reports that Chicago's Democratic state Sen. Ram Villivalam "said he pushed for the new Pan Asian community center, which he envisions as a place for the area's diverse and fast-growing Asian population to come together for services of common need."

Gee, that sounds nice, so nice perhaps that every other ethnic group in Villivalam's district now will want its own community center.

But what does a public meeting place for a select group of people have to do with rebuilding the state's "crumbling infrastructure"?

Obviously, not much — the infrastructure plan is as much about vote buying as it is about road and bridge improvements. There will be many spending programs like the community center.

That's not to say the Legislature didn't make a stab at its version of fiscal responsibility. The Legislature committed itself to paying $1.2 billion of the state's $6.6 billion in unpaid bills.

That's a worthy objective. Unfortunately, the state is borrowing the $1.2 billion it will use to pay a portion of its unpaid bills.

The state will save money — it's an arbitrage play — because it will pay a lower interest rate on the money it borrows on the bond market than it's paying on its unpaid bills.

Still, they spend so much money that they give the impression of not knowing that when they borrow from Peter to pay Paul they still owe Peter.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at or 217-351-5369.

Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is