State Journal-Register

Jan 19, 2001

Section: NEWS

Page: 1

Fitzgerald rejects state 'wish list'
Hastert sought unity on federal funds for Illinois

By DORI MEINERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Escalating his feud with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Sen. Peter Fitzgerald has refused to sign on to an Illinois congressional delegation "wish list" of $600 million worth of Illinois projects given to President-elect Bush.

The wish list of about 250 projects was put together during a bipartisan meeting of the Illinois delegation in Chicago last month. It includes requests for $35 million for the Abraham Lincoln presidential library in Springfield, $100 million for the Illinois Rivers 2020 restoration program and $27 million for reconstruction of Chicago's Stevenson Expressway in fiscal 2002.

Along with the list, Bush was supposed to receive a letter of support from the entire Illinois delegation.

However, Fitzgerald objected to some of his colleagues' projects, which were contained in a 32-page document his aide described as a "mega-hog letter."

"The mere fact that a project is located somewhere within the state of Illinois does not mean that it is inherently meritorious and necessarily worthy of support," Fitzgerald wrote in a Jan. 5 letter to Hastert first reported in the Capitol Hill newspaper, Roll Call.

"I try to evaluate each request for funding on its own merits - not on the request of individual members - an effort to guard against the profligate or inappropriate use of the taxpayers' money," he continued.

"I appreciate the effort to bring the delegation together to work to increase the share of federal funds Illinois receives each year," Fitzgerald wrote. "I think, however, that we need to be equally, if not more, concerned that taxpayer money is spent frugally, wisely, and with as many safeguards as we can reasonably impose."

Hastert ultimately gave Bush the list with a cover letter signed only by him.

It's not the first time that Fitzgerald, a Republican from Inverness, has crossed the speaker.

Hastert, R-Yorkville, accused Fitzgerald of "political grandstanding" in October when the senator temporarily delayed passage of a massive Interior Department funding bill to protest its failure to require that contracts for the Lincoln library be subject to competitive bid guidelines. The bill included $10 million for the presidential library, which the state delegation as a whole supported.

More recently, some have suggested that Hastert wanted a role in making recommendations to the Bush White House for U.S. attorney and judicial appointments in Illinois, something traditionally reserved for a state's senior senator of the president's party. Fitzgerald made clear he'll make those recommendations on his own.

While Fitzgerald had a reputation as a maverick in the state Senate, there is speculation that his recent actions may signal his desire to run for governor.

"The senator believes he has a duty to the people of Illinois to treat their money with care and respect. They work very hard for it," said Fitzgerald spokesman Mike Cys, who described the lengthy wish list as a "megahog letter" full of pork requests.

"The senator believes he was elected by the people to prevent precisely these types of abuses," Cys said.

Cys insisted the senator's relationship with Hastert is "cordial" and that he "likes and respects a great many of his colleagues." But, he added, "he tries to guard against anything that gets in the way of his duty to the people of Illinois."

Hastert spokesman John Feehery downplayed the dispute, saying Hastert also wasn't endorsing every project on the list.

But he said many were important for the state.

"I don't think anyone can say expanding the Stevenson is pork," said Feehery. "Sen. Fitzgerald . . . ought to be careful how he labels things."

Other Illinois lawmakers also expressed frustration.

"I was disappointed that the senator didn't sign it," said Rep. William Lipinski, D-Chicago.

Lipinski and Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, led two days of meetings last month during which they solicited project requests and objections from the Illinois delegation. Fitzgerald, who was represented by staff at the meeting, didn't raise any objections then, Lipinski said.

Rep. John Shimkus, a Republican who represents part of Springfield, said he didn't understand Fitzgerald's action.

"I'm of the belief that you accomplish more with sugar than you do with vinegar.. . The senator is acting differently than I would," said Shimkus, a close friend of Hastert's who said he believes in being a "team player."