It’s often said that legislation is a lot like sausage: The final product may be OK, but no one wants to watch it being made.
That was certainly true in the Illinois Senate on Friday, when Democratic leaders pushed through a state budget in the last few minutes of the day.
At some level, it’s good that the House and Senate approved budgets on Friday. Although the budgets vary a great deal, it’s the beginning of a framework that could establish a budget for next fiscal year before the end of the month. Both spending plans call for less spending than the budget proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn.
The two bills now will go to the other chamber, where the work will continue.
But sometimes the process is just as important as the result.
According to several reports, Senate Democratic leaders emerged from meetings late Friday afternoon and started filing amendments to bills and voting on them. It soon became clear that the amendments were essentially the Senate Democrat’s budget for next fiscal year.
Several senators, mostly Republicans, have complained that they were being asked to vote on amendments that they had not read and could not read. Most of them said the amendment language wasn’t available on the Senate’s computer system or in printed form. Rich Miller, who publishes the Statehouse newsletter Capital Fax, also documented the scene. Miller speculates the Senate leadership moved so quickly on Friday because the House, under Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, was approving their budget and Senate leadership did not want to be upstaged.
Whatever the reason, this is political game-playing at its worst.
Of all the decisions the General Assembly makes during a year, the budget is usually the most important. It is certainly of top importance this year as the state struggles to get its finances in order. The decisions are critical and will have an impact on the state’s future, and taxpayers’ pocket books, for years into the future.
Hasty, uninformed budget decisions are one of the reasons the state is in the middle of a financial catastrophe. The budget deserves more scrutiny by all involved than a hasty amendment attached to unrelated legislation.
It should also be noted that these are the same folks who pushed through a 67 percent income tax increase in the middle of a night, hours before several lame-duck legislators left office.
Hopefully, the rest of the budget process will be more open and transparent. The final state budget is a huge, complicated document, and legislators and others involved need time to digest it before being forced into a vote.
We’ve seen the result of last-minute, uninformed budget votes, and it isn’t good. It’s disappointing that the Senate Democratic leadership hasn’t learned that lesson.