I hope you weren’t holding your breath. State lawmakers limped home this week with tails between their legs, straining to invent new ways to make the same old excuses about why the state of Illinois is now 700-plus days without a real budget. They have kicked the can even farther down the road, putting the hurt to a lot of current and future citizens of this once-great state.
One day earlier, protestors — some of whom came through Livingston, McLean and Logan counties on their march to Springfield last week — were arrested as they tried to block entrance to the governor’s office.
Too bad there weren’t some lawmakers from both parties in the mix, joining the demand that Gov. Rauner show enough leadership to rally clear-headed legislators from both parties to an end-run around entrenched House Speaker Michael Madigan and toward a budget compromise.
Madigan says he’s protecting the middle class when he blocks consideration of reforms Rauner has been insisting on. Sorry, Mr. Speaker. That talking point has become transparent. We know what motivates you. It’s doing whatever it takes to regain a super majority of Democrats in your house and restore some sparkle to your crown. And to make that happen, you want to make Republicans vote for a tax increase.
How the bar has been lowered. We even would have settled for the old time shenanigans when legislative leaders would literally stop the clock a minute before the midnight deadline to complete work on the budget. Yes, it would have smoke and mirrors in its framework, but there was a budget and reasonable certainty about critical government services.
So what’s happened since I last wrote about this disgraceful state of affairs four Saturdays ago?
The tally of unpaid state bills has increased $2.4 billion, to $14.5 billion, coming to $1,128 per citizen (compared to $945 a month ago). More precious tax dollars being earmarked for rising interest payments.
We’ve seen increased erosion of important social services, including the closing later this month of a vital part of Bloomington-Normal’s Baby Fold.
There’s desperation in educational institutions at every level. Some may not re-open this fall.
And our elected leaders allowed politics to reign over common sense.
The governor crows about being persistent in his quest for meaningful reforms. But his doggedness has done real, lasting damage. Has this businessman-turned-politician not noticed that his budget-less state has a credit rating about to scrape bottom? That talented young people are avoiding Illinois colleges? That we’re losing population?
It’s time for Rauner to seize anything that even hints of a step toward his legislative agenda, label it as progress and then offer up a real budget plan that has a chance of proceeding — with or without Madigan. Lawmakers are ready. They’re feeling the heat.
There may be devils in the details, as they say, but the General Assembly has sent the governor two pieces of legislation that could qualify as a start toward his turnaround agenda. One makes it easier to consolidate local governmental units. The other offers modest workers' compensation insurance reform. Rauner should evaluate both in a positive light, laying off campaign rhetoric that only drives a bigger wedge between himself and mulish Democrats.
One of Rauner’s most recent resolves has to do with a property tax freeze. If you’re among the many who paid a property tax bill this week, you know they’re plenty high. One sure way to ease pressure on property taxes is to ease pressure on the government entities they support. Schools, for instance. Our constitution says the state has “primary responsibility” for financing public education. Uh huh.
Just wait until schools start shutting down their sports programs and suspending bus service. That’ll put parents outside the governor’s office. The speaker’s, too. And, come next year, a lot of angry citizens at polling places.