SPRINGFIELD - Gov. Rod Blagojevich all but formally launched his bid for a second term Wednesday, unveiling an election-year budget proposal that expands social programs, keeps his promise not to raise the state's income tax and puts Republicans on the defensive.
The $55.3 billion spending plan would put more money toward preschool programs, state universities and health care, while also increasing the number of prison guards and state troopers.
"Budgets are more than a series of numbers," the governor said. "They're moral documents that reflect your priorities."
Along with expensive statewide initiatives, he also announced plans to open an unused prison in Thomson and a shuttered developmental center in Lincoln, as well as pay for hiring 10 workers to staff a new state trapshooting facility in Sparta.
In a move sure to divide lawmakers, Blagojevich also wants to devote $15 million for regenerative stem cell research.
But, the financial foundation of the budget is on politically shaky ground. In order to fund $1.7 billion in new programs during the fiscal year that will begin July 1, the Chicago Democrat is again proposing to raise fees on businesses by $138 million - a move met with skepticism from both Republicans and Democrats.
Much of the growth in spending, he said, results from an improved economy. Aides said state revenue growth of an estimated $900 million topped their estimates, giving them more wiggle room to expand programs.
Central Illinois lawmakers said the proposed growth in spending is alarming.
"The last thing I want to do is be part of an initiative that we find out we don't have the funding for," said state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington. "Until we can rein in our spending, how are we going to be able to take the initiatives that have been talked about today and pay for them. We have to pay our bills and we're not doing that in the state."
State Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa, who is a candidate for secretary of state, said there was no question it was a campaign speech. But, Rutherford said there was one bright spot.
"I was glad to see there are some staffing increases at the state prisons. We are seeing some dangerous conditions," said Rutherford.
State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said Blagojevich's budget is "literally bankrupting the state."
"We ought to tax what he smokes and breathes because he just lives in a euphoric land," said Bill Brady, a Republican candidate for governor. "I don't understand where he hallucinates with these numbers."
The governor also wants to sell off the state's portfolio of student loans to private lenders to generate up to $500 million for higher education spending. And, he wants to raise $10 million by raising the tax on cigars.
Lawmakers also raised red flags about his plan to fund state pensions with the proceeds from the sale of the state's 10th casino license. The matter has been mired in legal wrangling for years and even the governor's aides acknowledged there is no timeframe for the issue to be resolved.
During the speech, some Republican lawmakers loudly jeered some of the governor's declarations about the fiscal solvency of the state.
Republicans will be hard-pressed to block much of the budget. Democrats, who control both the House and Senate, are hoping to pass the spending plan within the next six weeks, with an eye on adjourning in early April.
Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, dismissed the grumbling by the GOP.
"If the governor gave the Sermon on the Mount they would find something wrong with that," Jones said.