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Editorial: March of victims of Springfield stalemate grows longer

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Now we’ve lost General Electric.

This should surprise nobody. What business wants to move to a state so dysfunctional it can’t even agree on a budget?

But when GE announced Wednesday the company would move its headquarters from a Connecticut suburb to Boston, there was no doubt why the company blew off a bid by Chicago — nobody builds a house on quicksand.

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“It seemed too big of a risk,” a GE source told the Chicago Tribune, referring to Illinois’ political gridlock and $111 billion in pension debt. “That played into the decision to take Chicago off the short list.”

And so it goes: Illinois gets hammered again, with permanent damage, while big egos in Springfield play chicken. This is not governing.

For exactly one year now, since Gov. Bruce Rauner took his oath of office, both sides in this unnecessary standoff in Springfield have claimed the high ground.

Rauner says short-term pain is the price Illinois must pay for long-term gain. He promises an improved business climate will solve all problems once the state Legislature acquiesces to his essentially anti-union reforms. And the governor’s equally obstinate counterpart in the Legislature, House Speaker Mike Madigan, says he will have nothing to do with Rauner’s “extreme” efforts to eviscerate unions and the middle class. So he does an imitation of a statute.

There is nothing short-term about this pain. Real people are getting hurt for good. Real jobs are being lost for good. Real opportunities, such as bringing a manufacturing giant like GE to Illinois, are being missed for good. Consider:

— Tourism in Chicago is taking a hit, in part for reasons beyond Springfield’s control. Police-involved shootings and a movie named “Chi-Raq” make Chicago a tougher sell for the city’s main tourism agency, Choose Chicago. But it has not helped that the agency’s state funding — 40 percent of its budget — was frozen for six months. Choose Chicago was forced to lay off one-fourth of its staff, close offices in Canada and Mexico and cease advertising during the second half of 2015.

— Funding for the state’s main college grant program, the Monetary Award Program, is being held hostage, throwing overboard some 125,000 young people who come from lower-income families.

— State universities are struggling to hold down tuition and attract and retain the best faculty. Eastern Illinois University has laid off staff, and Western Illinois University is close to laying off 50 of its 632 full-time faculty.

— Economic growth in Illinois after the recession lags well behind the national average, and business people — most recently GE — pointedly blame uncertainty in state taxes and other public policies. Businesses don’t like taxes, but they hate uncertainty.

Reboot Illinois, the online state watchdog site, lists plenty of other ways ordinary people are being hit hard, and often permanently, by this political standoff:

Local health departments across the state are cutting back on staff, hours and services. A power company and a prison drug treatment provider have been unpaid and are pulling the plug on services. Eligibility standards for child care subsidies for low-income families were raised.

Police training classes across the state have been canceled. The state recently notified employees that it soon may not be able to pay medical providers for 150,000 state employees, retirees and families. The state is on the verge of non-compliance with court-ordered standards for care of the developmentally disabled. Elderly men and women are about to lose their state-subsidized caregivers, forcing many of them out of their homes into nursing homes.

Real people are being hurt — permanently. They are babies and children, college students and the disabled, sick people and old people.

They are not, like Rauner and Madigan, wealthy, powerful and untouchable.

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