Just a few months ago, the folks who run state universities, local 4-H programs and soil and conservation districts were told they'd be losing big chunks of their state funding because of a budget crunch.

The financial turmoil was set in motion by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was trying to pressure lawmakers into giving him more money to finish out the current fiscal year.

It didn't work, but the governor eventually relented and kept dollars flowing to those programs.

Now comes a new round of threats by the governor, which are aimed at ostensibly the same thing. He is threatening to cut $1.5 billion out of the spending plan that starts July 1 if the House doesn't return to town and approve several major revenue generating ideas.

Among the programs he says he'll cut are subsidies for Amtrak, raises for people who care for the developmentally disabled and dollars for low-income college students.

The Department of Natural Resources, already hobbled by five years of job cuts, could lose as many as 100 more workers.

The response from House Speaker Michael Madigan?

His spokesman, Steve Brown, called the governor a "madman."

In other words, we're not expecting lawmakers to descend on Springfield anytime soon.

The rank and file review

It's not just Madigan who doesn't show much respect for the state's chief executive.

State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, had this take on the governor's latest gambit:

"He goes after these popular programs to strike fear into people," Verschoore told us on Wednesday.

Quote of the week

"The day you figure out our governor is the day I figure out women. And I don't think that's going to happen." Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy discussing whether to believe the governor is truly backing off his plan to close Pontiac Correctional Center.

If there's a will

Democrats banded together last year and found a solution to the financial problems facing mass transit systems in Chicago.

Democrats banded together last year in order to move up the primary election date to help Barack Obama in his presidential bid.

So, why can't they get their act together and approve a statewide construction program?

State Rep. Bill Mitchell, a Republican from Forsyth, says this:

"They could do it if they wanted to do it."

Obama connection

In our ongoing quest for tidbits about Illinois' junior senator, we found this news item out of Montana in the Billings Gazette.

"Aphrodite's Inferno, a new downtown Billings adult entertainment club, opened for business Sunday night to a crowd of about 50 invited guests. The show included performances by exotic and nude dancers, including owner Victoria Lindley, who rushed to open the business before tonight's Billings City Council meeting.

"Throughout the weekend, Lindley and friends cleaned and readied the former Casey's Golden Pheasant Bar at 222 N. Broadway, blackening the windows that most recently sported slogans supporting presidential candidate Barack Obama, whose campaign used the space for a local headquarters."

Turkey trip

After the governor announced he wants to cut funding for Amtrak, we thought of asking state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington for some reaction.

After all, Brady was a key player in getting the first subsidies for Amtrak approved back in the 1990s, when he was just a young pup in the House.

Alas, Brady was spending the week in Turkey on a legislative tour and isn't expected to return until Sunday.

Our next thought was to call state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook. She's been a big advocate for Amtrak and serves as chairwoman of a committee that deals with passenger rail service.

Alas, she, too, was on the trip to Turkey.

With all this extra time on our hands, we decided to call state Rep. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, for his reaction to the governor's decision to keep Pontiac Correctional Center from being closed.

Alas, Cultra was in Turkey too.

In all, there were 10 members of the General Assembly on the overseas voyage.

According to state Sen. Pam Althoff's office, which helped organize the trip, the group went to Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

Members paid for their own airfare, but it wasn't clear whether they tapped into their campaign funds to go on the 10-day trip.

Others on the trip included state Reps. Dan Reitz, Suzanna Mendoza, Kathy Ryg, Sandra Pihos, Karen May and state Sen. Maggie Crotty.

KURT ERICKSON heads the Lee Enterprises Springfield Bureau, which serves The Southern and other Lee newspapers; he can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or (217) 789-0865.

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