Nothing matters but the “the fierce urgency of now.”
As Sen. Toi Hutchinson eloquently expressed the matter on Tuesday, Illinois simply cannot go another week, let alone another year, without a budget, one that sufficiently matches revenues with spending. Every other concern is secondary.
If the House votes later this week to override several vetoes by the governor, as expected, Illinois finally will have that budget. And the state, after two punishing years without one, can begin to repair the self-inflicted damage.
Can we then agree never to do this again?
Holding the budget hostage to other agendas has proved to be nothing but awful for Illinois. Businesses deplored the instability. People moved out. Wall Street downgraded the state’s credit rating six times. A backlog of bills grew from $4.6 billion to $14.7 billion.
Holding the budget hostage might have worked if Gov. Bruce Rauner had the votes, but he never did. The Democratic-controlled Legislature was not about to bow to his demands for various “pro-business” reforms, which Democrats viewed through a different lens as anti-union. Democrats get their money from unions. They also believe in unions.
It might have worked, as well, had House Speaker Mike Madigan been more willing to seek a compromise, like his Senate counterpart, President John Cullerton. But Madigan prefers control to compromise, especially given a governor who, as a candidate, demonized the speaker as the epitome of all that’s wrong in Springfield.
The speaker never rose above the personal slights, though a better leader might have.
Even now, as we write this, we can’t feel entirely sure this stupidity is behind us. The House and Senate passed a set of three budget bills over the holiday weekend, Rauner vetoed them, and the Senate on Tuesday overrode his vetoes. But Madigan will need significant Republican support to achieve an override in the House. He almost certainly has the votes, but the waffle word here is “almost.”
Nobody loves a budget that includes a 32 percent income tax hike, to 4.95 percent from 3.75 percent. We sure don’t. But nobody has ever proposed a credible alternative, and Illinois is out of time. The notion that the state could avoid a significant tax hike by cutting spending dramatically — by as much as 45 percent in key programs — was always a practical absurdity. There were, and never will be, enough votes in the Legislature to do that.
In the meantime, if Illinois does not cough up a budget within days, the state’s credit rating will drop to junk status. We’ve been warned. The state’s multibillion-dollar deficit will deepen and taxpayers will get hit harder for years to come.
We face the “fierce urgency of now.” Time’s up.