Random thoughts after a week back at the Capitol.
The House of Representatives is taking a more active role in shaping the state budget than, apparently, the legislature has done in the past. Usually the Administration submits a budget (they've got an Office of Management and Budget -- the General Assembly does not) and the legislature negotiates around those basic parameters. There are add-ons in the budget to satisfy the demands of legislators and there are agreements reached on what social service agencies will receive state funds devoted to human services. But the big picture stuff generally comes from the Governor's office.
This year that seems to be changing, and that's a very healthy institutional move. The legislature ought to have an equal say in shaping the budget. I've found an odd, persistent deference to the Executive branch on setting the budget in Springfield, and I'm glad to see that the legislature is asserting its role.
I also picked up this insight on Meeks, Blagojevich and Topinka.
On the main economic issue of the next four years: whether to raise the state's 3% flat rate income tax (the lowest of the 41 states with an income tax), Blagojevich is the most conservative with his no-new-tax pledge, Topinka is in the middle with her studied amiguity and Meeks is the most progressive with his promise to raise the state income tax to 5%.
On social issues (abortion rights, stem cell research and gay rights), Blagojevich is the most progressive with his best-in-the-nation record on the morning after pill, abortion rights and the like, Topinka's in the middle with her moderate branding and more conservative voting record and Meeks is on the far right with his evangelical position that essentially mirrors Oberweis'.
(Meeks reminds me that those Christians who take the teachings of Jesus seriously are economically liberal -- chasing the money-changers out of the Temple and all that).