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Editorial: Listen to Illinois Senate leaders and say uncle

Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Republican Minority Leader Christine Radogno met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board to talk about state budget solutions Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

For the good of Illinois, it’s time we all cried uncle.

State government employees? Your pension has to take a trim. Accept it.

Doctors who specialize in treating people who get hurt on the job? Get ready for a tightening of workers’ compensation laws.


Retailers and restaurateurs? The minimum wage is headed for a hike.

Taxpayers of Illinois? Income taxes are going to go up.

And we’ll cry uncle, too. A massive package of legislation is about to be dropped on Springfield — 13 major interlocking bills — and we’ll be first to say that’s not the best way to craft good public policy. Ideally, each bill would be considered independently,  reworked as necessary and voted up or down on its merits. Ideally, all important details would be nailed down first.

But there is nothing ideal about the financial crisis that is pulling down Illinois; nor is there anything ideal about our state’s dysfunctional politics. Illinois is stumbling through a second year without a basic budget and people and jobs are leaving. Public universities, fitfully funded, are growing wobbly. Social service agencies are cutting back on help to the poor, the disabled and the elderly. If one massive package of bills, full of hard tradeoffs and more than a little rushed, finally can end the paralysis in Springfield, we must be in favor of it.

We urge the state Senate to support this bipartisan “grand bargain” budget when it comes up for votes, as expected, on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. Let the record show that both Republicans and Democrats are fed up with the power games, especially between Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Mike Madigan, that are only hurting Illinois. Defy the special interests that fund your campaigns, make the tough vote and do your part for your state.

If approved by the Senate, the budget package will move to the House, dropping right into Madigan’s lap. The Speaker might then face a defining choice: Get behind this effort or be shown up as a man who, as his critics like to say, cares about nothing but power. The grand bargain contains much that should appeal to Madigan, such as a hike in the minimum wage to $11 by 2021 and Chicago-friendly changes to how the state funds schools. But it includes a few victories for Rauner, as well, including term limits for legislative leaders, a property tax freeze and workers’ comp reforms.

Rauner has insisted all along that he will sign off on a new state budget only if it includes at least some of his proposed pro-business reforms. Madigan has insisted that budget talks and Rauner’s agenda should not be linked. Yet, in the proposed grand bargain, the link is at least lightly made — and the governor really wants those term limits.

Madigan’s dilemma is that if he rejects this latest proposed budget deal, he will be rejecting not only Rauner’s pre-conditions, once again, but also the good-faith efforts of his Democratic counterpart in the Senate, President John Cullerton, and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno. Cullerton and Radogno worked out this grand bargain in a healthy spirit of compromise, both of them conceding serious ground. Madigan also will be rejecting the will of every state senator, of both parties, who voted for the deal. Increasingly, he will stand alone. And for what?

Everybody, including Madigan and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, has to cry uncle.

“This is the only way we’re going to get this,” Radogno told the Sun-Times Editorial Board on Thursday, explaining why she conceded on issues such as an income tax hike and an increase in the minimum wage, both loathed by many in her Republican caucus. The alternative, she said, is to “continue to go from crisis to crisis with an inadequate budget.”

Eventually, if by some remote and remarkable chance, some recognizable form of the grand bargain works its way through the House and is approved, the onus falls on Rauner to get real, too. The governor not only would be asked to sign off on a budget package that includes few of his cherished pro-business reforms, but he also would be expected to step up and politically own, along with his Democratic opponents, the package’s least popular provision: a hike in the personal income tax from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent.

As of yet, though, Rauner has signaled skepticism. His budget office released an analysis Wednesday that concluded the Cullerton-Radogno budget deal has a $4.3 billion hole.

Asked about that Thursday, the two Senate leaders said they are still working on the final details of the grand bargain, and will be taking into account data from the governor’s office. But as to their overall strategy — let’s quit sniping and start compromising and get something big done now— where’s the honest disagreement?

“What are our alternatives here?” Radogno asked. “Do nothing?”

Say uncle, everybody.

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