We’ve been seeing many news reports lately that Gov. Rod Blagojevich thinks he can pass a massive $3 billion road- and school-construction plan this year. But Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson is throwing cold water on much of this speculation. An article last week in Crain’s Chicago Business suggested that a deal may be near on the $3 billion program. Watson was quoted saying that he could support funding it with a $175 million “windfall” from increased gasoline-sales-tax revenues and a tax increase on cigarettes. But a spokeswoman for the Senate GOP leader plays down the comments. “He didn’t say anything new,” says Patty Schuh in an e-mail. “We’ve always been for [a capital program] but it’s got to be done right.” Schuh also says that Watson’s support for using the gasoline-sales-tax revenue is not new and noted that Watson said that he’d look at increasing the cigarette tax last year. Senate President Emil Jones blocked that particular idea, and he hasn’t indicated that he’s changed his mind, which puts a big roadblock in front of Watson’s idea. (Jones, a smoker, just underwent angioplasty surgery, so it’s possible that he’ll look at things differently in the near future.) Rumors have circulated for months about a possible capital deal. In May, Blagojevich privately suggested holding a special legislative session to force the issue, but that plan was rejected by the two Democratic leaders, Jones and House Speaker Michael Madigan. Then, about September, more rumors flew about a possible special session, but those turned out to be false. Every few weeks since then, including the days before the fall veto session, the rumor mill has ground out capital-program talk, but all of it has been wrong. The problem for Blagojevich is that new borrowing requires a three-fifths majority in both legislative chambers. He can’t pass anything without Republican support, and, for various reasons, they haven’t been cooperating. Jones and Madigan have already signed off on a capital-projects deal, but there is resistance to Watson’s idea of using the increased sales-tax revenue to pay for it. The Legislature’s revenue-forecasting arm has noted that the increased consumer spending on gasoline could very well be offset by less spending on other things, which would offset the increased gasoline-sales-tax receipts. In other words, there’s only so much money out there at any given time. The political game is pretty obvious. Watson is under pressure from some Republicans to prevent Blagojevich from winning any big new spending program before this year’s election. “Starving” an administrator’s budget is a tried-and-true political strategy, and the Republicans have used it against Blagojevich whenever they could for the past couple of years. The Senate Republicans have said that they won’t back a new bonding program unless they receive solid assurances that they won’t be cut out of the deal. The governor has a history of not keeping his word in Springfield, so they want a projects list and a solemn vow in advance. If the governor agrees to a list of projects and the program passes, he’ll be able to visit those construction sites throughout the campaign season. That “victory lap” would allow Blagojevich to rebut Republican claims that he is a woefully ineffective governor who can’t get things done. If the program doesn’t pass, Blagojevich and the Democrats could use that list against Senate Republican candidates and incumbents. Good sources say that Watson is under increasing pressure from road builders and other natural GOP constituents to support a capital plan. At least some of his own members are feeling the same heat, plus pressure from local constituents who want the jobs and benefits from road-, bridge-, and school-construction projects. Watson worked hard last year to pry the construction-trade unions away from the Democrats after Jones tried to strip away their control of apprenticeship programs and shift it to the state. If Watson continues to be seen as blocking a capital-projects bill, however, his move on the unions could be jeopardized. Whatever happens, Watson doesn’t want to publicly look responsible for killing a $3 billion projects plan. Whether he’ll go the extra mile to get it passed is still unknown. The governor’s people appear to believe that they can persuade Watson to come on board and are starting to gin up media reports that a deal is percolating. Stay tuned.