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Brown: Rauner, legislators wise to slow down on the victory laps

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Sen. Donne Trotter, a Chicago Democrat, offered an appropriately sober assessment of the six-month stopgap state budget deal the Legislature approved Thursday.

Trotter, who helped craft the long overdue spending plan, advised his fellow lawmakers not to get carried away patting themselves on the back.

“This is just us doing our job. We’re making like it’s a special thing,” Trotter said.

Indeed, after 18 months without any sort of a budget while social service agencies and state universities withered on the vine, it was easy to get overly-excited about the compromise struck by Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats to keep the schools open another year and the government barely operating until January.

To that, I plead guilty as charged. In the cold light of day, the road ahead remains daunting for a state stuck in reverse.

But there’s good news on that front, too.

OPINION

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Come to find out, Rauner has been following the Cubs’ Theo Epstein’s playbook for turning around the State of Illinois, allowing the state to tank during his first 18 months to better effectuate his rebuilding process.

“I believe, and I firmly hope, that right now we’ve hit the bottom,” Rauner told reporters after the Legislature had completed its work. “This is the low point in the evolution of Illinois. And now we begin to move up.”

That’s very encouraging to hear. And to think that he did it without a single first round draft pick or a groovy new manager. I guess I’ll keep my season tickets for another year.

For Rauner, the November election will serve as his equivalent to the player draft. Both sides are already gearing up for it.

Democrats groused that Republican campaign robocalls targeting legislators over the budget deal started Thursday morning even before the voting.

For this, Rauner made no apologies, nor was he under any obligation to do so.

“You’ll see very aggressive electioneering every day now going forward between now and Nov. 8. That’s a fact. Both sides,” Rauner said.

The governor, by the way, prefers to call the budget deal a “bridge spending plan,” which I took as an indication that the term “stopgap budget” doesn’t poll very well with angry Illinois voters.

The governor is very adept at shaping his message for those voters, much better than the Democrats who control the Legislature, although it should not be forgotten those Democrats won that control one hard-fought local race at a time (after drawing themselves a favorable legislative map).

Rauner was very clear. The idea behind the six-month budget is to push the big decisions that have to be made beyond the election. He says that’s the Democrats’ preference, which I don’t doubt, although he’s been no more willing than them to take the lead on the toughest of those decisions — how to raise taxes.

Rauner said he’s hopeful a more far-reaching compromise—or “grand bargain” as he likes to say — can be struck between November and January. I’d put my money on the Legislature’s lame duck session in early January.

The governor also said he expects the shape of that compromise will be determined to a great extent by whether Republicans can cut into the Democrats’ numerical advantage in the House and Senate.

“Probably not a majority, that’s not likely, although it’s possible. We can always hope,” said Rauner, not sounding quite that hopeful.

Democrats are counting on Donald Trump dragging down the entire Republican ticket, while Rauner and Republicans seem to be planning to tie Democrats to unpopular House Speaker Mike Madigan. One danger for Democrats is that Trump is expected to be popular in some of the Downstate areas where they are trying defend Democratic incumbents.

The governor and the Legislature did their job Thursday, not as well as we might have liked but better than we’ve come to expect. No need to be grateful.

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