Peoria Journal Star

May 1, 2003

Blagojevich, Daley meet with Illinois delegates

DORI MEINERT
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley met with the Illinois congressional delegation Wednesday to discuss how to steer more federal funding to the financially troubled state.

Increasing the state's share of federal transportation and Medicaid funding is high on the two Democrats' priority list. But $24.4 million to complete the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield also was included on the state's wish list.

"The fact is Illinois is a donor state. For every dollar that we send to the federal government, 77 cents comes back to our state," said Blagojevich, emerging from his first meeting with the congressional delegation since he left the group to become governor.

Illinois historically ranks low in federal funding because it lacks the defense facilities that draw large amounts of federal dollars to other states. But it has recently lost out in other areas as well.

Congress in 1998 reworked the federal transportation funding formula for states, turning Illinois into a "donor" state. It receives just 92 cents for each dollar sent to Washington in federal fuel taxes.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville, predicted Illinois would fare better in this year's transportation reauthorization.

"I think we can do much better on the transportation bill than we did last time. We can do a better job," said Hastert, who wasn't speaker during the last reauthorization.

Hastert acknowledged that the Illinois delegation would have a tougher time trying to change the Medicaid formula. Illinois currently receives a 50 percent federal match for Medicaid services. An increase to 55 percent would bring about $430 million more to Illinois, state officials said.

"We have to step on toes of states that have better formulas to be able to do it," Hastert said.

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Illinois, agreed, saying, "It's going to be very hard to change. We've been trying to change it for a very long time."

Fitzgerald acknowledged that his recent decision not to seek re-election would reduce his leverage in the closely divided Senate. Previously, he had boasted that Republicans would be eager to help him in his campaign.

"I think it will be harder . . . certainly there's no political advantage anymore," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald offered a decidedly less optimistic view of Illinois' overall chances for attracting more federal money.

"There's not a lot of excess funding floating around," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald has angered other Illinois lawmakers by refusing to sign on to earlier state "wish lists" and demanding that federal purchasing rules govern construction of the Lincoln Library in Springfield.

Of this year's library funding request, Fitzgerald said: "I have never pushed for that. I will leave that up to Senator (Dick) Durbin (D-Ill.) and Speaker Hastert."