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The state cannot afford the governor's proposal for a statewide health insurance program and a gross receipts tax - and it can't afford to have a government shutdown.

Most of all, it can't afford to have its top leaders engaged in an ego match in which many innocent bystanders will be hurt.

"It's time to stop being politicians and start being statesmen," as state Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa, summed it up.

With a week left until the end of the fiscal year and the chasm between the various sides showing no sign of closing, the best we can realistically hope for at this stage is a stopgap measure to keep the government going for 30 days.

Political leaders are supposed to be working on that this weekend, but we will breathe easier once it's passed.

We need a final agreement to be reached earlier than in 2004 - when the budget wasn't approved until July 24, a record for tardiness. Back then, they put off a capital spending plan "until fall session." We're still waiting.

Comptroller Dan Hynes has outlined some of what will happen if a budget agreement is not reached in time. Thousands of state employees will go without paychecks, beginning July 9 and growing exponentially through the month.

As important as that is, the impact on services and service providers is even more critical.

Because of earlier court decisions, payments directly to the poor and disabled, such as food stamps, must continue even if there is no budget in place.

However, payments to those who provide services to those in need would be delayed.

The state is already behind in Medicaid payments. Hynes estimates that the backlog will be at least $1.3 billion by the end of the fiscal year.

Hynes is concerned - with good reason - that further delays could lead some providers to suspend services, thereby limiting access to care.

Also facing "significant hardship" - in Hynes' words, not just ours - are foster-care parents and institutional-care providers. The list goes on.

Yet Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Senate President Emil Jones and House Speaker Michael Madigan seem no closer to an agreement on the complete budget than they were a week ago.

"You lead by example and Rod's not leading by example," state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said.

At least Madigan got a budget approved in the House. It's not balanced, as noted by Rep. Brady, but state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said a "responsible governor" who managed it right could live within that budget and not spend everything that is authorized.

Instead, Blagojevich continues to tout his health-care program and a tax scheme that has been soundly rejected.

"Let's get realistic about it," Dan Brady said. "This certainly isn't the time (for the health program). There's no money for it."

As Rutherford says, the state should be focusing on existing programs and how to fairly fund them, rather than embarking on major new initiatives.

Republicans must stick to their principles, requiring government to live within its means. The Democratic rank-and-file must force their leaders to face reality. And those leaders must stop letting their egos get in the way of good government.

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