SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Aug. 1, 2004) The early draft of this story was headlined, "Keep your fingers crossed on budget". After 54 days in overtime, the General Assembly finally passed a state budget for the fiscal year that began last month. Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the budget last Friday after he returned from the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
While in Springfield in May, I drifted over to the Statehouse to check in with various lawmakers to see if anything good might happen for the Old Slave House. Surprisingly, at that point there was a hint at good news.
Local state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Norris City, had been talking with the governor and his staff about the house and some type of appropriation this year. He wouldnít confirm anything, but he was supposed to meet with the governor later that afternoon.
Despite his efforts and the governor's promises, nothing ever surfaced in any of the budget bills that showed anything for the Old Slave House. At least he tried, which is more than some can say.
Assistant House Majority Leader Lou Jones, D-Chicago, one of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus who visited the house back in 1997 on a trip organized by Brandonís uncle, then-state Rep. David Phelps, also told me she would use her own influence with House Speaker Michael Madigan to try to get some funding if the governor didnít come through.
The problem has been for a number of years now that Illinois faces a major structural budget deficit, which isnít supposed to happen in a state that requires a balanced budget. Thatís just one of the reasons why Open it NOW! has been urging a public-private partnership be developed where the state turns over the operations of the Old Slave House to a regional non-profit group.
For the first time Jones and state Sen. Donne E. Trotter, D-Chicago, chairman of one of the Senateís appropriation committees as well as chairman of the Black Caucus, seemed to agree that the site had the track record of self-sufficiency that could justify such a partnership.
Meanwhile, with no funding weíre right back where we started. We've been here before, but maybe this time more people are on board and something will be done.