So, Mike, the governor has tipped his hand that, with a little of this and a little of that, he just might be willing to sign on to this “grand bargain” budget deal being worked out in the Illinois Senate.
The question then becomes what it would take for you, the Speaker of the House, to get behind the deal, and we sure hope you agree that “just say no” no longer will fly.
You are right when you complain that Gov. Rauner has never presented the Legislature with a proposed balanced budget, complete with unpopular tax hikes and program cuts, though he is required by the state constitution to do so. We get that. But we’re way past it.
And we know it offends you that Rauner continues to insist on a few non-budgetary reforms, such as changes in workers’ compensation rules, as part of a budget deal. But let’s face it, Mr. Speaker: The governor was elected to get stuff done. He’s not talking through his hat when he says Illinois better become more business-friendly. And he has dropped his most objectionable demands, such as a couple of “reforms” that might effectively kill unions.
We also know this is a little personal for you, though you say it is not. The governor trashed you when he ran for office, and his allies trash you still. That was foolish of them. People who think elephants have long memories don’t know Mike Madigan.
But there is this so-called “grand bargain” in the works in the Senate now, a gigantic set of interlocking bills that could finally, after more than 20 months, give Illinois a formal budget and go a long way toward solving other big problems, such as the need for more money for Chicago’s schools.
You are sometimes caricatured as a man who cares about nothing except money and power, but we believe — or, more accurately, prefer to believe — that is not true. We like to believe you truly care about Chicago and the public schools and helping the underdog, and this grand bargain certainly moves in that direction.
If not this deal now, Mike, then what? Neither you nor the governor has a better idea how to end the political stalemate that is killing our state, one exiting resident at a time. Bills are piling up. Universities and social services are staggering like punch-drunk fighters. If there is no grand bargain, there will be no bargain at all. Illinois will stumble straight into next year’s state elections.
Nobody wants that, right? Or is it the plan? Destroy Illinois to take down a foe?
We would ask the same question of Gov. Rauner.
The way we see it, Mike, if the two Senate leaders negotiating this grand bargain can live with it, so can the rest of us — including you and the governor — though we’ll of course withhold final judgment until the deal is done. Senate President John Cullerton, leader of the Democrats, and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, leader of the Republicans, are worthy champions of their respective party’s priorities and ideologies. If they can find a way to common ground, both you and Rauner will look pathetically unreasonable if you cannot find a way to join them.
Delivering his annual budget address Wednesday, Rauner ran down a list of things he’d like to see in the grand bargain. A number of those items, such as term limits on legislative leaders — that’s aimed at you, Mike — and making permanent a tax credit for research and development, already are in the mix. Other items, such as making a property tax freeze permanent and excluding food and drugs from an expanded sales tax, are not.
Only time will tell whether those are hard or soft demands by the governor, and whether they are politically doable or deal-breakers. The governor’s next steps will reveal just how amenable to compromise he really is.
But now the Senate could use a similar signal from you, too, Mike. Senators on both sides of the aisle will be asked to take difficult votes. That’s easier to do if they know they’re not taking a risk for nothing, if they know this grand bargain stands even a chance in the House and with the governor.
Would this be a win for Rauner? Sort of. He would get a few of the reforms he has insisted on. But only after 20 months of losing really badly.
If you were out to make point, Mike, you have.
Now let’s do what’s best for Illinois.
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