CHICAGO - Illinois plunged deeper into turmoil yesterday over disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich as the attorney general asked the state's highest court to strip the governor of his powers, as lawmakers moved closer to impeaching the scandal-plagued politician and as billions of dollars in bills went unpaid.
But Blagojevich showed no sign of backing down. He took time to pray with ministers at his home and signed a bill extending insurance coverage for autistic kids, sending a sign to his critics that he's still in charge.
Amid all of it, the state headed toward an extraordinary constitutional showdown. Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked the Supreme Court to declare Blagojevich unfit to serve, likening his corruption scandal to a debilitating illness as she ramped up pressure on the governor to resign. The move seeks to hand power over to the lieutenant governor.
It is the first time in Illinois history that such an action was taken. The attorney general is applying a rule that was intended to cover cases in which a governor is incapacitated for health reasons.
The Democrat is "unable to serve as governor due to disability and should not rightfully continue to hold that office," according to the motion.
The attorney general, also a Democrat, asked the court to strip the governor of his duties until possible impeachment proceedings and his criminal case run their course. If he does not step down and is not impeached or convicted, Blagojevich could go to the court and ask to be reinstated.
The scandal has also begun to impede state business, Madigan said.
Illinois has billions of dollars in unpaid bills, including payments to Medicaid patients, hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes and schools, and the state has approved $1.4 billion in short-term borrowing to keep cash flowing. But before the borrowing takes effect, Madigan said she has to certify that there is not any legal proceeding threatening the ability of the governor to hold his office.
In light of yesterday's filing by her office, Madigan said she can't sign that.
"We will not be able to move forward on it until we have a different governor," Comptroller Dan Hynes said.
The state's inability to pay the bills has "a horrible ripple effect," the comptroller said. He said that pharmacies that count on state reimbursements could shut down, and suppliers could stop delivering food to Illinois prisons or letting state troopers buy gasoline. Businesses waiting for the state to pay its bills could lay off workers or simply go bankrupt, Hynes said.