Governor sprinkles another $1 million on Simmons' baseball dream

Ann Knef Aug. 3, 2006, 5:35am

Senator Luechtefeld

The bad news:

  • Illinois has the largest state budget deficit in the nation at $3 billion, according to analysis conducted by the Rockford Register Star.

  • Illinois has liabilities -- about $51 billion -- exceeding assets by $17 billion, the depressing report states;

  • Illinois has the highest pension liabilities of any state in the nation at about $35 billion; and

  • Illinois hospitals, pharmacies and nursing homes are waiting up to six months for Medicaid reimbursements.

    But the good news (for some) in the cash-strapped state is that Governor Rod Blagojevich found another $1 million to sprinkle on asbestos lawyer John Simmons' baseball dream in Marion.

    Blagojevich made the announcement on Wednesday while visiting the field where an independent minor league expansion team is expected to play next year. Last year, Blagojevich granted the city of Marion $3 million for infrastructure improvements in support of the project.

    Simmons and the SimmonsCooper law firm have made handsome contributions to Blagojevich's campaign in 2002. Records filed with the State Board of Elections recently indicate that Simmons has not yet contributed to Blagojevich this year.

    Simmons' wife, Jayne Simmons, will be the owner of the new Frontier League team because Minor League Baseball rules prohibit John Simmons from owning more than one team.

    He also owns the Sand Gnats, a Savannah, Ga. minor league team.

    In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Blagojevich deflected criticism.

    "Are we supposed to deny someone who has a good idea just because he also wants to participate in the political process?"

    "I can't see how anybody who has an objective viewpoint can say that what we did here is nothing but good for downstate Illinois," Blagojevich told the Post-Dispatch.

    Not all downstaters are in complete agreement with the governor.

    State Sen. David Luechtefeld (R-Okawville) is all for promoting the region, however contributing another $1 million toward the cause of a major donor in the midst of a state budget crisis is "immoral."

    "I think people need to ask...would the governor be giving $4 million to someone who had not donated to his campaign?" said Luechtefeld. "I think we know the answer."

    "It's not that (the projects) are evil," said Luechtefeld. "It's immoral what he's doing. It's just wrong."

    Luechtefeld's district does not include Marion, however the senator said he likes baseball, he played baseball in college and he will probably go to a game in Marion.

    He just doesn't agree with a spend-happy governor doling out hundreds of millions dollars across the state during election season.

    "This (Marion) is just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "It's happening all over the state and we can't pay our bills."

    In the meantime, Luechtefeld said he regularly fields calls from healthcare providers asking for help in getting paid by the state for money owed in Medicaid reimbursements.

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