Maybe it’s time Illinois drove into the ditch.
The state is approaching one year without a budget and it’s likely the new fiscal year will dawn on July 1 without a budget. While those who depend on social service agencies have suffered, along with universities and colleges, in large part the state has continued on without a budget.
Let’s unplug the auto-pilot and let reality set in.
Let’s send all but the most essential state workers home and stop paying them. Heck, send them all home.
Announce that schools won’t open in the fall.
Close the public universities until further notice.
Close state parks and museums.
Basically, shut the state down. Close the doors and lock them until Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton find a way to put sound policy ahead of politics.
We’re half serious.
Obviously, shutting down the state would cause a lot of harm to a lot of people. However, the threat of such a shutdown would undoubtedly solve this budget crisis.
The most likely scenario is that sometime this summer, party leaders will decide on a stopgap budget to keep the state operating and make sure schools open in the fall. That will delay any real discussion about the budget mess until after the November election.
The few legislators involved in contested races (the majority are unopposed) don’t want to take any unpopular votes too close to Election Day. Job preservation is always the top priority in the General Assembly. Both Cullerton and Rauner already have said that they would consider a stopgap budget.
Delaying the problem won’t solve it, however. The state will still spend more money than it takes in. That clicking sound you hear is your tax bill getting higher.
The main reason that no budget deal has been reached is that politicians are essentially immune to the heat that’s been generated. Because of court decisions and legislative mandates, 90 percent of the state spending is continuing without a budget. Those being harmed are not political forces. Add in the fact that most legislators are in gerrymandered-protected districts and any pressure placed on them is easy to ignore. Comparisons to Nero fiddling while Rome burns are not overstated.
However, if schools didn’t open in the fall, the pressure would build rapidly. Parents faced with finding day care for their children would not be happy to see summer vacation extended. Teachers facing a few weeks or months without paychecks wouldn’t sit idly by. Parents wanting their older children to head off or back to college, would not want them hanging around home for a few more months. Empty nesters like their empty nests.
And, state workers would not be happy with an unpaid vacation.
The state is basically bankrupt, so why not just close the doors and see what happens? It would be ugly and it would be a disaster. But one has to wonder if that’s what has to occur to force Rauner, Madigan and Cullerton to figure out a solution. The ignominy of being the worst-run state in the nation, perhaps the world, hasn’t forced their hand. Maybe it’s time for a more drastic solution.