Gov. Bruce Rauner presents his annual budget address to the Illinois General Assembly on Wednesday. Chances are he will complicate an already complex situation beset by reckless politics, a recently-lowered credit rating, mountains of unpaid bills, underfunded pensions, red ink spending and a possibility the state will stop paying its workers.
Rauner could avoid that by doing what the state constitution says he’s supposed to do: Present a truly balanced budget for lawmakers to consider, thereby bringing a sense of order to state government. That won’t happen, of course, because, wanting to be re-elected next year, he sure doesn’t want only his name attached to the kind of program cuts and tax and fee increases it will take to balance the budget.
Still, the state’s fiscal hole gets deeper every day and the task of setting things right becomes increasingly difficult as a “grand bargain” negotiated in the state senate appears ready to unravel.
The governor needs to do something to get the ball rolling in the right direction — something dramatic. Here’s what I suggest he says Wednesday:
“Members of the General Assembly, my fellow servants of the people of Illinois who are justifiably frustrated — even outraged — that their state government has been without a budget for nearly two years now: It’s time for us to end the fiscal bleeding and uncertainty that has put our state and its citizens at risk.
“As you know, I have insisted certain changes in state government be attached to any new spending plan. Today I am setting those demands aside and make this offer: I will sign any budget plan sent to me by the General Assembly covering the rest of this fiscal year. You pass it, I will sign it.
“I have only two conditions. First, it must be a strictly balanced budget, meaning it contains truly realistic revenue projections and, as necessary, clearly identified cuts in spending. I will share full ownership of that budget. My signature will be on it.
“Second, once I have signed the budget, legislative leaders must join me in non-stop negotiations to map out a spending plan for the next fiscal year that begins July 1. These negotiations will occur 12 hours a day, seven days a week until we have an agreement we are all prepared to wholly recommend to legislators from our respective parties.
“Speaker Madigan, President Cullerton, I pledge to enter those talks with no pre-conditions. Hopes and desires? Yes. But there can be no hope, no desire greater than to end this deadlock, to set Illinois on a better path and to ensure we have a lot to celebrate next year when our great state observes its 200th birthday.”
Go for it, governor. Be a leader. End the stare-down.
A friend now gone
Don Newberg was news director when I joined WJBC Radio long ago. In those days, over-the-air broadcasting was tightly regulated by the federal government to ensure communities were well-served by those given a license to use the public’s airwaves.
WJBC was locally-owned back then, and with unending encouragement and support from those owners, Newberg demonstrated how a local radio station could thrive by going far beyond regulatory minimums involving public service and fairness.
As his successful Bloomington Broadcasting career advanced to larger cities, he was many things to many people, returning here in retirement with his lovely wife, Carolyn. He died this week at the age of 84.
I’ll most remember Don as a resourceful journalist with a shrewd eye for political mischief, a terrific family man and community servant. We shall miss him and were blessed to know him as a wonderful friend and mentor.