Doug Wilson

Illinois' half-year budget, a year late, is unacceptable

Posted: Jul. 3, 2016 12:01 am
Nobody should be taking any bows after Illinois' yearlong budget stalemate was broken with what amounts to a half-year spending plan.

Lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner found a way to agree on a stopgap budget deal Thursday. Unfortunately, tragically, the state went through a year of cuts, layoffs, funding freezes and credit downgrades. Thousands of vendors, service providers and regular people suffered.

Rep. Randy Frese, R-Paloma, is frustrated that it took so long to get a compromise budget. Elected in 2014, he has never gotten to vote on a balanced, full-year budget.

"No one person or party gets any credit for doing what should have been done. But it's a start," Frese said.

This mess started in May 2015. Democrats who hold supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate passed a budget of their own. Rauner, a first-term Republican, said he would not sign the unbalanced budget, and he added that he would reject spending plans until some reforms -- tort reforms, workers compensation changes and limits on union powers -- got passed. Democrats said they were not going to deal with any of Rauner's "Turnaround Agenda."

Rauner vetoed the budget. Then during the veto session last November, Rauner managed to persuade a lone Democratic House member, Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, to defy Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. Two veto override votes failed.

Rauner and Madigan have been frequently and publicly criticizing each other since. And both men have tried to make sure the other one got all of the blame for the budget stalemate.

Frese hopes there's a new method for coming up with a budget. He said the stopgap spending plan was developed by working groups of rank-and-file lawmakers offering bipartisan input from both the House and Senate.

Whether that happens depends on what happens in the November election.

Every House seat is going to be decided. Democrats now hold a 71-47 edge in that chamber, and if all of them vote together, the Democrats could overturn any gubernatorial veto. Senate Democrats have an even larger 39-20 edge over Republicans.

Forty of the Senate seats are up in November. However, 30 of those senators have no opposition. Even if Republicans win all of their races, they won't come away with a majority.

Lawmakers were very aware of election pressures last week. Robocalls started targeting Democratic legislators. While the politicians were in session, voters back home were hearing very negative messages about them.

So, going forward, will working groups be the norm?

If House Democrats have anything close to their current supermajority, and if Madigan remains speaker, that seems unlikely. When one political party, or one party leader, has the power to operate independently, that's what they do.

Even if Republicans pick up some House seats, Madigan will have the edge before the new lawmakers are sworn in during January.

Lots of people are happy that a budget deal was passed. That's fine, but nobody should be overly impressed. This is what elected officials are elected to do.

Agreeing to half a budget a year late is not acceptable.