A CAPITAL IDEA: Perhaps if Rod Blagojevich hitched a sleigh full of toys to his plane, the governor’s frequent commutes between Chicago and Springfield would be less irksome to Illinois taxpayers.
The fact that Rod Blagojevich refuses to live in Springfield is not news. The governor's frequent, expensive commutes between Chicago and downstate have been standard operating procedure since 2003. Nonetheless, a new Associated Press analysis has rekindled public outrage over this practice.
According to the AP, which examined hundreds of Blagojevich flights, the Internal Revenue Service could consider his jaunts between the Windy City and capital city as 'personal' travel. Illinois taxpayers may be on the hook for penalties — $40,000 or more — if the governor failed to correctly report them, the report says. Those fines would be in addition to the taxpayer-funded $5,800-per-roundtrip flights, plus the cost of maintaining an unoccupied Executive Mansion, heated driveway and all.
Perhaps if he hitched a sleigh full of toys to his plane, Blagojevich's sky-high commute would be less irksome, though not by much. Indeed, the flight story underscores the governor's general attitude: that he can ignore Springfield and do whatever he wants.
All year he's been acting like a monarch — whether in trying to shove a reviled tax down businesses' throats, forging ahead with a health care expansion despite repeated legislative rejection, or demanding lawmakers pass an important transit bill while he enjoyed a Blackhawks hockey game.
Any wonder why many downstaters have written off the man they've nicknamed 'Chicagovich'?
In response to the AP flight review, a Blagojevich spokeswoman said, 'We define the principal place of business as Chicago, and all the flights are billed accordingly.' If the IRS accepts that reasoning, Illinoisans can be relieved at not having to pay any tax penalties. But they might be disappointed to learn the seat of government has been relocated by fiat.
Certainly, Chicago is the state's financial and population hub. But Blagojevich's situation is not unique. Other governors — New York's Eliot Spitzer, California's Arnold Schwarzenegger — have done a much better job balancing their official duties in their states' capitals (Albany and Sacramento) while keeping family bases in big cities (Manhattan, Los Angeles).
If Blagojevich hopes to salvage his second term, he needs to get better acquainted with Springfield and the men and women elected to serve there. Meantime, he can pay for his own wholly unnecessary travel.