On Saturday, all bets were off.
The Illinois Lottery officially suspended Mega Millions sales because the state has had no budget for two years, and legislators in Springfield did and said little publicly to instill confidence that a budget deal might finally get done.
But negotiations will continue on Sunday, which beats everybody just going home. And Speaker Mike Madigan says the House will vote on a revenue package modeled on a Republican proposal, which could be viewed as promising. The crux of the budget stalemate has always been the inability of Democrats and Republicans to agree on an income tax hike that everybody knows is necessary.
Or are we just imagining this small ray of hope? The alternative is so gloomy. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin issued a statement later Saturday that no deal has been cut on taxes or any other key issue, so it’s hard to say what Madigan’s really up to. As usual.
What we do know is that every new day there is no budget, Illinois looks more like Depression-era Oklahoma, folks packing up the truck and saying “Indiana or bust.” We do not exaggerate: Every day.
On Thursday, the state’s backlog of unpaid bills officially topped $15 billion.
On Friday, a federal judge ordered the state to start paying $586 million a month in old Medicaid bills — money the state does not have.
On Saturday, the state sent a letter to regular Lottery players to inform them that Mega Millions sales have been suspended. The state is not good for the money. Wisconsin lottery vendors, especially along the Illinois border, cheered the news.
On Monday, if there is no budget, Wall Street ratings agencies are expected downgrade Illinois’ credit rating to junk status. At best, Illinois might get a holiday weekend reprieve.
Without a budget soon, public schools in Illinois may not open on time, the academic accreditation of state universities risks being downgraded, and road construction projects will shut down.
If the heart of the problem has been the inability of the two parties to strike a deal on taxes, the heart of that problem has been Gov. Bruce Rauner’s insistence on getting more of his much ballyhooed “turnaround agenda,” including a four-year property tax freeze and further changes to workers’ compensation. Like those ideas or not, he’s never had the votes.
Go easy, Governor. Nothing left on your wish list is worth the pounding Illinois has taken while you futilely try to bend the Legislature to your will.
Get a budget.