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Andy Shaw: Illinois deserves Rauner's best shot Nov. 18

Gov. Bruce Rauner is scheduled to discuss the state budget with legislative leaders on Nov. 18. File photo by Ashlee Rezin for the Sun-Times.

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Ever suffer “invitation remorse” — the little-known syndrome that flares up when you ask someone over, then realize with a pang you’re not really into their company?

OK, it’s not a real disorder, but it’s what Gov. Rauner appears to be going through.

EDITORIAL

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After agreeing last month to host a Nov. 18 budget meeting with the four legislative leaders, including his main adversaries— House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton — he now seems ambivalent.

Getting together with a bunch of politicians can admittedly be deadly dull, but this summit should be heartily embraced because the governor and the legislative leaders haven’t been in the same room at the same time to discuss the state’s future since May.

That’s six months ago, and it’s deeply troubling because Illinois is locked in the vise-grip of an unprecedented budget stalemate, and without spending authorization, the money for vital government services will run out in a few months.

Even so, the game plan for Nov. 18 is still vague.

Is the meeting in Chicago or Springfield? Will the discussion be open — in the glare of a media spotlight — or behind closed doors? And what’s the agenda?

Rauner’s not anticipating much progress, telling a Downstate business group recently that “we’ll meet on Nov. 18, put it on television — whatever. I don’t think it’s going to matter much.”

He says Democrats aren’t likely to pass a budget until January, when it only takes a simple majority instead of the super-majority that’s required now.

His lack of enthusiasm for the upcoming meeting is disappointing to watchdogs like the Better Government Association.

We joined a reform coalition that pushed for the budget summit in an October letter authored by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and signed by, among others, BGA and the League of Women Voters.

The letter prompted a surprisingly quick positive response from Madigan, followed by Rauner’s offer to take the lead and manage the gathering.

So now it’s time for the governor to stop backsliding and start leading, along with the Democrats who control the General Assembly — Madigan and Cullerton.

Common sense suggests there’s room for grudging agreement on many issues — even thorny ones — if both sides are willing to compromise instead of digging in to protect vested interests or partisan ideology.

Perhaps the Dems can accept parts of Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda” in exchange for his endorsement of higher taxes to balance the budget and pay the bills.

Whatever the specifics, each side should consider putting a proposal on the table and negotiating from there, because the real enemy is a debilitating inertia that’s draining public universities, social service agencies and health clinics of the funds they depend on to meet the needs of veterans, seniors, students, the homeless and disabled, the working poor and the disadvantaged.

I’m not sure where the sweet spot is in the budget talks, but there has to be one, and it’s up to the folks we elect and pay with our tax dollars to find it and get the job done.

So let’s put “invitation remorse” aside and use the Nov. 18 meeting to start crafting a long overdue and urgently needed plan for Illinois’ future.

It’s time for our leaders to face the fact that their constituents are sick and tired of being treated like unwelcome guests.

Andy Shaw is President and CEO of the Better Government Association.

Email: ashaw@bettergov.org

Follow Andy Shaw on Twitter: @andyshawbga