We’ve seen this movie.
The opposite of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” this one is staged in Springfield. Call it “Revenge of the Shutdown” or “Raiders of the Lost Art of Compromise.”
Three times before — 1991, 2007, 2009 — it played out on Illinois’ big screen. Now, again, this July.
“This is different than most movies I’ve seen on Springfield,” former Gov. Jim Edgar said on Thursday.
Edgar is the ultimate film critic here and one of two leading men back in 1991. The other, in a lifetime role, is House Speaker Michael Madigan.
In 1991, as now, a newly elected Republican governor and a Democrat-controlled Legislature hit a brick wall on passing a budget.
Then, as now, the new governor wanted big changes.
“In 1991 Edgar came in and the temporary income tax had expired and he had run to make it permanent, but he wanted serious cuts in state spending,” said Kent Redfield, an expert on Illinois politics and public policy. “He put together a very austere budget from the perspective of the Democrats. Edgar is not a Tea Party Republican, but there was a real kind of ideological sense of defining the size of government. It made getting an agreement harder.”
On the other side was Madigan.
“We battled,” said Edgar. “But he was down in my office for lunch each day during the overtime session. Just the two of us. … I wouldn’t say we were buddies but cordial … We cut our rhetoric.He was a cheapest date I ever had. Just give him an apple for lunch. It was before my heart attack. I was eating Steak ‘n Shake.”
The threat of a government shutdown was, according to Redfield, very real. And he, a state employee and professor at the University of Illinois, was in jeopardy of not getting paid.
“I was exploring taking a short term loan … to make a mortgage payment,” he said.
In the end, neither Madigan nor Edgar abandoned their core beliefs but worked out a compromise on taxes and cuts. Redfield missed only one paycheck.
Unlike the 2007 and 2009 budget impasses, when the battles were between Democratic governors, Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn, versus Madigan’s Democratic majority, this time it’s back to 1991.
But with this difference:
“The budget is gray,” said Edgar. “Union issues are black and white.”
Rauner, unlike Edgar, has tied any deal on the budget to a non-budget agenda that goes after unions.
“There are certain core values that Democrats are not going to give up on,” said Charles Wheeler, director of the Public Affairs Reporting Program atUniversity of Illinois Springfield.
And one more difference.
Edgar and Madigan may not have been back-slapping pals.But there was mutual respect.And trust.
Something that seems lost in the Rauner-Madigan relationship.
“I would do it different.But every governor does it different. They are both very sincere on these positions. That’s the tough part of politics.”
Edgar says his wife, Brenda, tells him to be more optimistic about a timely end to this movie that we’ve all seen before.
At the moment, he is not.
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