Illinois is careening out of financial and governmental control, like a rapids-tossed boat racing downriver and a waterfall ahead. Maybe our helmsmen should finally stop fighting and grab the tiller.
Or, having wasted two precious years fighting a war by proxy in an election that settled nothing, do we now wait two more years for the results of yet another election?
While Illinois drowns.
Get over it, Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael J. Madigan. Like it or not, you are in this together. You will never defeat each other. Find a way to work together, do your jobs, and set our battered state on a more stable and promising course.
Illinois is now in its second year without a budget, something no other state has allowed to happen. Its coffers are hemorrhaging money as Illinois’ spending far outstrips its revenues. IOUs are piling up by the millions of dollars every day and soon could reach $14 billion. Public universities are in crisis. Social services are in shambles. Many elementary and secondary schools are barely scraping by. People without access to treatment are dying of heroin, young offenders with no counseling are back to committing crimes. Businesses are begging for governmental stability — they simply must know where they stand on taxes and regulations — before they pick up and leave.
It is a crisis that must be resolved. But until last Tuesday, Rauner and Michael Madigan were busy playing an electoral proxy war. By pouring $41.4 million into political campaigns, Rauner grabbed a net of four House seats from Madigan and two in the Senate. By spending many millions themselves, Democrats kept majorities in each chamber. Between them, the two sides spent more than $2 million in nearly a dozen legislative races.
Now, the election is over. A second full year with no budget could put Illinois $7 billion deeper into the hole. A stopgap funding measure agreed to in the summer will expire at the end of the year, except for elementary and secondary education. Soon, the state will be unmoored from any kind of spending plan — again. Without a budget, it will be impossible to stabilize the state’s finances. The games must end.
Rauner has refused to sign off on a budget unless Democrats agree to his “Turnaround Agenda” of weakening unions, term limits, worker’s comp reform and other provisions. The Democrats refuse to go along, but have offered little more of a response than saying no.
To Rauner, we say: Your methods have not succeeded. Move on to a new, more conciliatory, approach.
To the Democrats, we say: We understand you can’t stomach much of Rauner’s agenda, but simply saying no — over and over again — is not good enough. You should be meeting with the governor constantly, looking for a path forward.
To the Republicans in the Legislature we say: You, just as much as the Democrats, need to be part of the solution.
Late last week, Rauner pushed for a meeting with legislative leaders. Instead of being hesitant, which they were, the Democrats should have seized the opportunity. Why in heavens would they not?
Post-election, Rauner no longer can duck his responsibility to produce a balanced budget by saying the Democrats could enact one with their supermajorities. Madigan never really had a supermajority that would vote for new taxes, but given Tuesday’s election results, he will no longer have one even on paper.
To say our state will go under with every extra day of delay is no exaggeration. Federal matching funds will be increasingly difficult to obtain if the state can’t come up with its share of the cash for major projects. The state’s worst-in-the-nation credit rating pushes up borrowing costs. Deferred maintenance and other future expenses are growing. Damaged institutions, including public universities, will have to be revitalized, at a cost that will be higher than simply restoring their previous funding levels. Local governments are in trouble, too, because the state has raided their revenues. The state owes Cook County $60 million alone.
At the end of the spring legislative session, lawmakers of both parties showed how a solution might be reached. Meeting in working groups to discuss one of Rauner’s demands — reforms to worker’s comp — they came up with a series of agreed-upon reforms. Rauner rejected the deal, but the effort showed what a path forward might look like.
In the so-called lame-duck legislative session before the new General Assembly is sworn in in mid-January, at which there will be many legislators who won’t have to face re-election because their terms are ending, Rauner and the Legislature have a real opportunity to produce a healthy and balanced state budget.
Right the boat, gentlemen.Tweets by @csteditorials