Hold your breath. Our elected state officials may be inching toward an end to the budget impasse that has devastated the State of Illinois. Or not.
It’s possible, I suppose, that unyielding Mike Madigan, freshly elected to his 17th term as super-speaker, is finally hearing what loyal minions have been trying to tell him, pointing to their eyebrows: Illinois citizens have had it up to here. Even lawmakers who are well liked at home are starting to feel a mite insecure in their jobs.
With good reason. It’s been about two years since Illinois has had a real budget, with every legislator and, of course, Gov. Bruce Rauner responsible for the ship of state taking on more water every day.
With no hand on the budget tiller, they’re spending 13 percent more than what the state is receiving in revenue while vendors and service providers not-so-patiently await $11 billion due them.
That backlog of bills comes to $857 for every man, woman and child who lives in Illinois — a burden shared by fewer and fewer people. Illinois, you see, had a net loss of 37,508 residents in 2016, the biggest decline of any state. It’s like every last citizen of Clinton, Streator, Pontiac and Paxton packed up and said “See ya later” to the Land of Lincoln.
Is there any facet of our society left undamaged by this political dysfunction? The fiscal belts of social service agencies have been tightened, tightened again, and tightened some more. The business community is Prozac-anxious, finding it difficult to find direction. Education at every level has been harmed. The pension system is in deep trouble and Illinois’ credit rating is lower than any other state’s.
These are giant problems with long tails. Shame on us for letting it happen.
Maybe the multi-layered fix put on the table last week by Senate leadership (with our own two senators in more prominent leadership positions) is reason for hope. So too, perhaps, the “aggressive economic reforms” sketched out by Madigan. Glory be, there was even a bit of bi-partisanship kum by yahing going on — until Republicans launched a round of censorious robocalls to constituents of House Democrats who had voted to re-elect the speaker.
No one but Madigan knows whether he’ll permit some true movement toward a functional budget, or whether the Rauner-Madigan standoff is destined to continue.
We do know Rauner has invested a lot of political capital and his own cash in his effort to reshape state government. But since he became governor, the pension shortfall has increased 24 percent, the accumulation of unpaid bills has more than doubled, and he has yet to formally propose a truly balanced budget.
One wonders how much this successful businessman’s lack of progress in Springfield can be attributed to the fact the governorship is his first elective office.
But, hey! Let’s try to stay positive, even though a cauldron of skepticism, suspicion and political nastiness foams just under the surface.
And let’s keep reminding local lawmakers, inclined to say they’re powerless in ending the stalemate, that they’ve kicked the can down the road so many times that it’s unrecognizable. What a sorry state of affairs for our State of Illinois.
This and that
We’ll miss Illinois native Michelle Obama as first lady…the adjective that best describes her is “authentic”…We’ll also miss retired Normal city manager Dave Anderson, who’s relocating (as in “departing Illinois”) to Arkansas to be close to family…the park on East College is named for him… The number of people getting on and off at the local Amtrak station fell 11 percent in the latest 12-month reporting period, blamed largely on reduced service resulting from ongoing high-speed track construction…the Twin Cities stop is still easily the second-busiest in Illinois, behind Chicago.