Illinois lawmakers left town for the weekend Thursday having made no visible progress on resolving the myriad budget problems facing state government.

With money running out to pay for childcare subsidies for low-income parents and a similar shortfall facing the payroll for prison guards and court reporters, the Democrat-controlled House and Senate have been unable to come together with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on a solution to fill the gaping hole.

No one wants to make the first move in fear they could be attacked by the others. No one wants to have to vote for politically touchy cuts to education or the road fund.

The stalemate has raised the tension meter in the statehouse to levels usually not seen until the end of the spring session, the traditional time when deals are being cut. No one wants to let the other side win this first round in the early days of the Rauner era.

You might recall that Rauner's campaign message was that he was going to shake up Springfield. Its working so far. He's got everyone so shaken up they're paralyzed.

Luckily, rank-and-file members have found ways to keep themselves busy in the midst of the meltdown.

For example, lawmakers last week endorsed legislation to boost the planting of milkweed alongside Illinois interstates. The theory is that the plantings will help boost monarch butterfly populations in the state.

In the House, a panel of lawmakers signed off on legislation making pumpkin pie the official state dessert.

In the Senate, lawmakers OK'd a resolution designating sweet corn as the official state vegetable.

And, members of the House Consumer Protection Committee advanced a bill that would make it a misdemeanor to sell hermit crabs and goldfish that have been dyed an artificial color.

Butterflies, pie, crabs and corn on the cob. You can't call this General Assembly a do-nothing legislature.

Budget effects

In addition to trying to correct the problems with this year's budget, lawmakers also are holding hearings about next year's budget. You know, it's the one where Gov. Rauner is trying to fill a $5 billion revenue gap via cuts and changes to state pensions.

His no-tax-hike plan has created some potentially odd scenarios for some state agencies.

For example, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources currently has 13 people training to become conservation police officers. Under Rauner's plan, IDNR Director Wayne Rosenthal said those trainees will have to be laid off once the budget goes into effect.

So, we pay for their training and then dump them.

Similarly, the Illinois State Police will have no new cadet classes next year and will have to lay off troopers if its budget is cut by an estimated 5 percent, said state police director Leo Schmitz.

The agency also likely would have to close the police training academy and close more crime laboratories, furthering delaying the processing of evidence in violent crimes.

Schmitz said those layoffs come when the agency already cannot fully staff each district on a round-the-clock basis.

In a hearing before members of a House budget committee, he said there are some downstate districts where they only have enough manpower to cover 22 hours of the day.

"In the future, I'll be looking for more troopers," Schmitz said.

"We have not funded the Illinois State Police adequately and that's a doggone shame," said state Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon.

Eagle Creek

A Hoffman Estates lawmaker asked a question last week about something that might raise the hackles of people in the Lake Shelbyville area.

During a hearing on the Department of Natural Resources proposed budget, state Rep. Fred Crespo asked whether the agency is considering simply walking away from the shuttered Eagle Creek Resort south of Findlay.

The facility was closed in 2009 because an outbreak of mold and efforts to repair and reopen the place have stalled again.

IDNR chief Wayne Rosenthal didn't respond directly to Crespo's question, saying instead that the agency has hired a company to compile a report outlining how much it will take to get the resort up and running again.

"Right now we're in the assessment process," Rosenthal said.

The report isn't expected to be completed until later this year.

Follow Kurt Erickson on Twitter @Illinois_Stage


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