We thought last year’s legislative session — which, like an NBA season, stretched over two calendar years — was rock bottom for disappointing government.

We thought last year’s legislative session — which, like an NBA season, stretched over two calendar years — was rock bottom for disappointing government.

But with the legislative session at the halfway point of its calendar with virtually nothing of substance accomplished, we wonder if last year may have been only the warm-up for a real lesson in discouragement. Against a backdrop of acrimony among Statehouse leadership, the state’s most pressing needs — a capital construction plan, reform of a Medicaid system that is woefully behind in its payments to health-care providers and the continued disparity in school funding across the state, to name just three — seem more like sideshow attractions than urgent issues.

Here is the scene as we see it.

House Speaker Michael Madigan has taken to describing relations between him, Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Senate President Emil Jones as a “civil war.”

As reported by the Capitol Fax political newsletter and blog, Madigan told a firefighters group that “no prisoners” are being taken in this war. Madigan is at odds with Jones because he believes Jones broke a promise last year to override the governor’s veto of projects for House Democrats. The speaker told Capitol Fax that when he next speaks to Jones, he will tell him, “You only get one big lie.”

Meanwhile, the governor remains involved in a Sangamon County Circuit Court case in which he is suing Madigan over the governor’s authority to call and schedule the dates and times of special legislative sessions. Blagojevich filed the lawsuit last year after Madigan changed the daily start times of special sessions and told House members to ignore Blagojevich’s call for one special session.

What petty nonsense.

Comptroller Dan Hynes has warned repeatedly of the impending crisis for the state if it does not get its Medicaid payment system in order. As doctors wait longer and longer for reimbursement, they become less and less likely or able to take on new Medicaid patients. A group of Republican senators has proposed several reforms aimed at lessening the state’s payment backlog and slowing the growth of Medicaid rolls in Illinois. At the same time, Blagojevich has filed suit in Cook County to allow him not only to expand the state’s FamilyCare insurance program, but to do so without approval from the legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

Basically, this is the governor attempting to use the courts to bypass the legislature.

In an atmosphere this toxic, we find no reason for optimism that this legislative session will be any more efficient or productive than last year’s.

While there is ample blame to go around, we find the governor most culpable for the overall state of acrimony at the Capitol. Since taking office, Blagojevich has shown consistent disdain for the legislative process. Lawmakers no longer take him at his word, and insist that he sign “memorandums of understanding” — written statements that he’ll keep promises — before supporting his initiatives. He has earned public mistrust by his lack of engagement in the legislative process and his Springfield absenteeism. He has had a willing enabler in Jones, who last year helped engineer one of the grandest political double-crosses in recent memory on the governor’s behalf. After Blagojevich vetoed last year’s budget in a way that punished all his political enemies, Jones let the veto stand by refusing to call the veto message for a vote in the Senate.

This battle of egos counts for more than just political theater. As the leaders duke it out, our bridges continue to deteriorate, school districts make do with aging buildings and low-income patients find their options for medical treatment slowly dwindling as doctors tire of the state’s inefficiency in paying for their services.

The governor picked this fight and we don’t think he’ll win. Unfortunately, it’s the people of Illinois who will bear the battle scars.

State Journal-Register