With all the talk Friday from Republicans about Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan “creating a crisis” in state government, you might easily forget the state already is in the midst of a crisis not of her making.
The crisis — nearly 19 months old now — has been caused by the failure of the Legislature and Gov. Bruce Rauner to agree on a state budget.
This crisis has been felt mostly by individuals who rely on the state for certain social services and by the nonprofit organizations that provide those services, as well as by our state colleges and universities, slowly bleeding to death without funding.
While the rest of state government survives pretty much as normal in the absence of a budget through court orders and other legal provisions that pay the bills, these orphaned functions of government have been forced to suffer the consequences of the standoff between Rauner and Democratic leaders.
It’s a very real crisis with people getting hurt and long-term damage being done to the state’s social safety net and to its higher education institutions — and to the people who rely on each.
But it’s a handy crisis for a Republican governor trying to squeeze Democratic legislators because its effects are of less political consequence for him than for them.
That’s where Lisa Madigan re-enters the picture.
To be sure, the action taken Thursday by the attorney general — going to court in hopes of making clear that state employees should no longer be paid in the absence of a budget — could widen the crisis exponentially.
It could also help bring it to an end.
That’s exactly what the Illinois Constitution contemplates with its provision that: “The General Assembly by law shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the State.”
In other words, no appropriation means no expenditure. And no expenditure means no pay for state workers. No pays means no work, except, as federal law tells us, for certain essential positions, mostly in public safety.
That would shut down most of state government, which would be an entirely different crisis — the kind that might remind people of Newt Gingrich and Washington gridlock while disrupting the lives of a much larger section of the public.
Rauner obviously doesn’t want that.
I don’t know of anybody who does, but what some do want is that the threat of that outcome forces the Legislature and the governor, any governor, to come to terms on a budget.
That’s always made sense to me. If anything, I question why the attorney general didn’t push this issue sooner, which, by the way, is totally consistent with her legal defense of Rauner’s failure to pay social service providers.
At this point, it doesn’t matter. This is the right move.
I don’t want to see state workers go unpaid. I want the state to come up with a budget.
Amid the howls in reaction to the attorney general’s move were complaints the added pressure could disrupt ongoing talks by Illinois Senate leaders, who have provided the first glimmer of hope in a while that a resolution is possible.
Sorry, everyone needs to feel that pressure.
When Senate President John Cullerton and Republican Leader Christine Radogno visited our offices a week ago to tout their proposed deal, they both made it clear a budget needs to be approved now, not months from now.
“Every day we’re going $11 million deeper into the hole, every day we don’t solve it,” Radogno said then. “If people think it’s tough to solve now, and they don’t like the [tax increases], it’s going to be way tougher in two years, and it’s harder now than it would have been two years ago.”
In that light, I don’t see anything unreasonable about Madigan asking a judge to set a Feb. 28 date for wrapping up a budget before stopping state workers pay. The judge could also set a later date.
The important point is that we don’t let this continue indefinitely.Tweets by @MarkBrownCST