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Legislators angry Blagojevich visits day after cuts
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/25/2007 1:25 AM

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SPRINGFIELD -- Suburban lawmakers were stunned Friday to find Gov. Rod Blagojevich touring area flooding and promising to do all he could to help, given that just 24 hours earlier he'd wiped out state funding for flood control projects, writing them off as political "pork."

"That was what really kind of took me over the edge," said state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat.

Blagojevich on Thursday cut a $100,000 grant to Prospect Heights she'd requested to assist with Des Plaines River flood control. Also cut was a Buffalo Creek project and money for a new bridge on St. Charles Road near West Chicago. On Friday, local officials said that bridge was under water.

"Each time the West Branch of the DuPage River overflows this bridge, it damages the foundation of the structure. Each time public safety is reduced," said Kenneth Spitz, highway commissioner in Wayne Township. "We're trying to raise the funds to replace the existing bridge with a higher structure that will take it out of harm's way from the DuPage River. This is definitely not a pork project."

But Blagojevich cut $200,000 of the $400,000 lawmakers requested for the new bridge in an attempt to stave off an override of his budget cuts. The governor killed off projects sponsored by Senate Republicans and many House Democrats, but left alone House Republican projects in hopes those members will block efforts to overrule his spending vetoes.

Senate Democrats already said they would not support the overrides and the governor left pools of money set aside for their projects intact.

But all of the insider political shenanigans is of little comfort to suburban residents facing rising flood waters and the local officials who've tried for years to garner funding to alleviate the problem.

Prospect Heights Mayor Rodney called the elimination of $100,000 earmarked for a new levee "a kick in the shorts."

"There are a lot of people who are really upset," he said. "They're all out here sandbagging."

A Blagojevich spokeswoman said the governor has added "millions of dollars for flood control efforts across various state agencies" and there's $1.8 million for a Des Plaines River levee. However, there was no specific explanation regarding the $100,000 for Prospect Heights or why any of the other cuts were made.

Blagojevich himself didn't want to talk about his budget cuts during a tour Friday of flooded areas along the Des Plaines River, when he declared Cook, Lake, Kane and McHenry counties state disaster areas.

Regardless, that Blagojevich would tour suburban flooding and promise help the day after making those cuts galled some legislators, who said the person standing in the way of flood control efforts is the governor.

"He didn't care about flooding problems in the suburbs when he line-itemed out the funding," said state Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican. "But the next day, when he can get a press pop …"

"It is another classic example of his intellectual flexibility," Murphy said. "There's no foundation there. It's whatever is selling at the moment."

Nekritz, meanwhile, wanted action, not explanations from the administration.

"As the Des Plaines River is overflowing its banks, I don't care what the reasons are," she said. "I just don't feel that government is working right now for the people it's supposed to be helping."