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Monday, January 18, 2010

The Extraordinary Powers of the Illinois Governor

When Rod Blagojevich was in trouble, he decided to slip in free rides on all CTA, Metra, and RTA public transportation into the transportation bill.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Thursday he'll sign a bill to increase sales taxes in the Chicago area and the real estate transfer tax in the city to fund local mass transit systems, but only if the legislature approves free bus and train rides for senior citizens.


The governor plans to use his amendatory veto powers to require that senior citizens do not have to pay to ride public trains or buses in Illinois. The House and Senate would have to approve such a change and neither chamber is scheduled to return to Springfield anytime this month, meaning another special session would be needed.

"I'm particularly concerned about seniors who live on fixed incomes and who don't have the ability to absorb a higher sales tax without making cuts in other areas," Blagojevich said.

In this showdown, Governor Blagojevich used something called the amendatory veto. What is an amendatory veto? It's the governor's ability to change parts of a law sent to their desk and send a new AMENDED bill back to the legislature. In Illinois, the legislature would then need 60% of the votes to override the veto. They could approve the changes by a simple majority.

By the state's Constitution, the Governor is allowed to change, OR AMEND, parts of the bill as long as the changes being made were made to a transportation bill. Blagojevich, looking to curry favor with any constituency, suddenly said he would only sign a bill that gave all seniors the ability to ride all Illinois public transportation for free. He used his amendatory power to do this. He sent the transportation bill back with his change, and now, in Illinois, all seniors, regardless of income, ride Illinois public transportation for free.

In using this power, the Governor uses legislative power even though the office is an executive office. It's also one of several powers granted to the governor's office that make it one of the most powerful in the country. Many of these were on display during Blagojevich's most desperate years.

The Illinois law also states that the governor has the power over Mandamus. Mandamus is a Latin term that means to command. In the case of the State of Illinois, the Illinois Supreme Court, through a series of rulings, have ruled this power void against the governor. In other words, in the state of Illinois, no court can compel the governor to do anything they don't want to do. Now, of course, it's not that simple. There are all sorts of other powers and laws that must be followed. For instance, if the governor were to check into rehab, but refused to give up their power temporarily, there is specific language in the Constitution that allows citizens to render the Governor incompetent. That was in fact used by Attorney General Lisa Madigan against Governor Blagojevich after his arrest.

It has been used by governors to not swear in appointments of previous administrations. Because no court can issue a writ of Mandamus against the Governor, no Governor can be forced to swear in an official they don't want to.

Another power the Governor is the power to manipulate funding. The legislature passes a bill for the Illinois budget. That bill earmarks certain amounts to each and every department. Then, the Governor has the power to cut up to 8% of said budget in any given department. There is no maximum that they can add so presumably a Governor can cut eight percent from every other department and add all that money to say the Department of Education.

Beyond that, the Governor has exclusive power within each department to dole out money as they see fit. For instance, the University of Illinois often gets several hundred million dollars from the state in any given year. For instance, when Governor Blagojevich was pushing his ill fated Gross Receipts Tax, he threatened the U of I board with cutting off all funding if they didn't support the tax.

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