Tuesday in Springfield was 24 hours of absurdity.
Remember this day as people continue to leave Illinois, as businesses take a pass on setting up shop here, as social service organizations cut programs for the elderly and disabled, as the unemployment rate continues to soar above the national average, as public universities lose top talent.
Nothing anybody was peddling in the Legislature or governor’s office Tuesday even approached a real solution. Nothing offered up would even begin to bring financial certainty and stability to state finances, taxes and funding.
The Democratic leadership’s spending plan, first passed by the House last week, was $7 billion short on revenue. It was nothing but a political document, a way to put Gov. Bruce Rauner on the spot — sign this joke or you will be to blame when the schools don’t open — and he made clear he would never sign it.
But Rauner’s own solution was only marginally more responsible. Completely reversing a stand he took just last week, the governor now wanted the Legislature to approve a stopgap measure to fund the state through the end of year, pulling money out of old pants’ pockets and forgotten wallets — one-time tricks. He would fund the worthiest causes — homeless programs, state parks and domestic violence prevention programs — but only by raiding the state’s Rainy Day Fund and the like. His “bridge plan,” as he would be the first to agree, would do nothing to improve long-term government stability and predictability.
Rauner remains an inept rookie politician. He still thinks like a private equity guy, not like a governor. He understands how power works in private business — he who has the most money wins — but not in politics. And he continues to treat the great city of Chicago, truly the beating heart of a healthy Illinois, like a corporate subsidiary to be shed if it fails to meet its quarterly earnings projections.
Case in point was the simplistic thinking behind Rauner’s veto last week of a bill that would have saved Chicago taxpayers $1 billion in the short-term by spreading out funding payments for police and fire pensions over a longer period of time. Rauner called that “kicking the can down the road,” which would be true if Mayor Rahm Emanuel had not just late year pushed through $755 million in tax and fee increases, including the largest property tax in modern Chicago history, precisely to partially solve the pension funding problem.
That’s not kicking the can down the road. That’s a mayor who knows that to now impose another $300 million tax hike could be devastating to the city.
Fortunately, even a few Republicans in the Illinois General Assembly couldn’t see the sense in kicking Chicago when it’s down — not when the city is doing its damnedest to get up — and voted Monday with the Democrats to override Rauner’s veto.
Rauner continues to insist on some degree of acceptance of his pro-business and anti-union “turnaround agenda” reforms before he’ll contemplate higher state taxes, though finding additional revenue ultimately is the only way a balanced state budget will be achieved. We sure wish we could divine Rauner’s bottom line on that.
And House Speaker Michael Madigan continues insist that Rauner’s reforms would only hurt the middle class. But we’d like to know Madigan’s real bottom line, too. Or is he determined not to budge even an inch, biding his time until after the November elections, putting raw politics ahead of what’s best for Illinois?
Meanwhile, Illinois continues its sad and unnecessary decline.
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