If you are a big nuclear power company that spreads money all over Springfield, the Illinois Legislature is your pal.
The Legislature on Thursday rushed through a massively complex bill that bails out Exelon, the biggest power company in the state, at your expense. Your electric bill is going up.
But if you are a mere child attending a Chicago public school, the Legislature — and Gov. Bruce Rauner — will kick you to the curb.
The governor vetoed a bill that would have given the Chicago Public Schools $215 million to help pay for teacher pensions. The governor blamed Democratic legislative leaders for the veto, saying he had warned all along that his support was contingent on reaching a deal on state and local pension reforms, which hasn’t happened.
The governor is right about that. He did give fair warning. Back in July, he made it clear to reporters that he would help out CPS only if the General Assembly passed pension reform by the end of the year. So we’re perplexed by Senate President John Cullerton’s insistence Thursday that “things weren’t tied together.” Sure they were.
The truth of the matter is that Rauner and all four House and Senate leaders utterly failed the people and businesses of Illinois again this week, beginning with some 400,000 Chicago school children. They failed to work out their differences like big boys and girls. The governor’s veto was just the last bad move.
And now comes the pain. We’ve seen it before. Barring a last-minute rescue effort, perhaps during a special session of the Legislature, Chicago schools could be forced to make mid-year cuts for the second year in a row. State universities will struggle again to make ends meet and avoid layoffs. Social service agencies that assist the poor and the disabled again will count the days before they must close their doors. Large and small businesses weary of the crazy uncertainty in Illinois government will pick up and move to Indiana, perhaps, or Mexico.
This is no way to run a state, and let’s please stop blaming the other guy. Real leaders suck it up and get the job done.
At the end of the month, Illinois’ six-month stopgap spending plan expires and nobody should count on a new one. Even more unlikely is the passage of a fully balanced budget. That would require a vote to raise taxes, which is not about to happen.
One theory says this is all by design. The thinking is that House Speaker Mike Madigan is killing time until newly elected state comptroller Susana Mendoza, a fellow Democrat and Madigan team player, comes on board and stops paying state workers, if she can get that by the courts. This would precipitate such a crisis that Rauner would be forced to abandon his last preconditions for a budget deal — a property tax freeze and legislative term limits. A competing theory says Rauner is prepared to ride this impasse straight into the 2018 elections.
Meanwhile, the situation has grown so dire that the usually stuffy Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, comprised of many of the biggest movers and shakers in town, has resorted to using billboards along expressways to sound the alarm. The Civic Committee’s “LOL Illinois” campaign (Land of Lincoln? Laugh out Loud?) urges everybody to go to lolillinois.com and make their ire known. Sounds good.
Illinois has $10 billion in unpaid bills. In two years, that’ll be $28 billion. Illinois has seen no net growth in non-farm jobs in 16 years. Neighboring states have seen an average growth of almost 93,000 jobs. Since 2000, more than 400,000 people have left Illinois.
We can’t go on like this.
Rauner has made many miscalculations. He horribly overestimated the ability of a rich guy with rich friends to roll into Springfield and bully the opposition. But Madigan also has not covered himself with glory. The Speaker is so often his own worst enemy, hunkering down, explaining nothing, blowing off meetings and playing games that only he understands.
Case in point would be Rauner’s insistence on term limits for legislators. We can’t imagine why the governor has demanded such a profound change in Illinois government before he will agree even to another stopgap budget. Two years into the job, he can still seem clueless.
But let’s also understand that term limits are a highly popular idea in Illinois, appealing to both Republicans and Democrats. If an honest term limit proposal were put to a vote in the General Assembly, it likely would pass. But Madigan won’t let it come up for a vote. Who’s the obstructionist now?
Exelon got its bailout Thursday. Sixty-three representatives and 32 senators voted for a giant bill they could not have understood. And Rauner says he will sign it.
Meanwhile, Chicago school kids got nothing. Nor did anybody else who’s hurting.
And Illinois continues its sad decline.
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