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Madeleine Doubek: Don't bet on a state budget before Nov. election

Gov. Bruce Rauner | AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

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There’s no end in sight to the nonsense that keeps us without a state budget seven months into the fiscal year. In fact, unless Illinoisans apply extreme pressure, most signs point to this stalemate continuing until after the Nov. 8 general election.

Those signs?

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan is working with an eye on November. He’s building up funds to compete with the more than $20 million Republican Bruce Rauner has banked to help the GOP with their legislative races in November. Madigan added $2.8 million in December to the four funds he controls. He raised $7.1 million last year. More than two-thirds of that came from unions and lawyers.

While those groups long have been the financiers of the Illinois Democrats, why would Madigan lessen their incentive to keep giving by cutting a budget deal? The animosity unions feel toward Rauner is the best motivation for donations and campaign street leather the speaker holds.

OPINION

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Late Friday, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, the state’s largest public union, said Rauner’s side no longer was negotiating. Rauner’s side said the union had asked if they were at an impasse. The two sides can’t even agree on whether they’re still negotiating.

Also late Friday, Madigan’s staff announced House lawmakers would not be back in Springfield this week as planned and would not return until Jan. 27, the day Rauner is set to give his State of the State speech.

Meanwhile, Rauner and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are making long-term plans. Rauner will add $480 million to taxpayers’ debt by selling bonds this week to fund construction projects. Emanuel is seeking approval from aldermen this week for $3 billion in borrowing, while CPS officials plan to add $1.2 billion in debt this month.

The governor and mayor are trying to make sure they have funds to keep things going as long as possible because future borrowing without a budget will cost even more.

Laurence Msall, president of the nonpartisan Civic Federation, said Chicago’s “very low credit rating is putting pressure on them to move forward on a very large authorization because of fear of further negative rulings, because of CPS debt and its own, and there’s not an expectation that Springfield is going to be forthcoming with help.”

Because of the already-low city and state credit ratings, interest on all of this debt will be obscene and we, or our children and grandchildren, will pay for it.

Msall says Illinois is spending $33 million a day more than it collects.

One more sign? Rauner piled on Emanuel’s handling of his police and law department scandals twice last week. It’s likely he wouldn’t have been so harsh if he thought a budget deal with Emanuel and the state’s top Democrats was anywhere near imminent.

There might be a side deal cut to try to save the state’s university system, but so far the pressure for that hasn’t been enough.

John Jackson, a visiting professor with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, said, “The middle class doesn’t realize that if you screw up universities and screw up the MAP (monetary award program) grant system then that will hurt their children — those who are taking sixth and seventh graders to practice. They haven’t thought it through.”

Jackson said, “The big missing element in the drama so far has been the local legislators, and people putting pressure on their local legislators. … They ought to be raising all kinds of Cain with their leaders.”

“This is Illinois,” he added, “It’s not a banana republic and they [lawmakers] ought to get on with it.”

Local and top lawmakers aren’t feeling enough pressure yet. The one thing on the horizon that looms before November is the possible collapse of Chicago Public Schools. A teachers’ strike this spring just might be the crisis that could compel Emanuel to compel Madigan to get a budget with school aid approved. Children at home, not learning, while their parents are supposed to be working?

Maybe the children can save us if we’re too short-sighted to save ourselves.

Madeleine Doubek is chief operating officer of Reboot Illinois.

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