The coalition of social service providers suing Illinois for the state’s now 11-month-old failure to pay its bills went back to court Wednesday to seek emergency relief and demand “immediate” payment.
While that was happening, the gang in Springfield was doing its best to heighten the emergency by careening ever closer to another failure to strike a budget deal, possibly strengthening the court case.
You can’t say our elected leaders aren’t trying to help.
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan took his latest turn Wednesday at adding to state government dysfunction by ramming through a budget plan that has one major problem — it proposes to spend at least $7 billion more than the state expects to take in this year.
That might work, if he also had a plan to pay for it, but if so, he was not ready to reveal it.
If there is a method to Madigan’s madness, it is not always evident to us mere mortals.
Was he trying to tell us that this is the size of a budget that House Democrats would find acceptable and that now it’s a matter of agreeing on how to raise the revenue to pay for it?
Or was this just another big F you to Rauner and the ever-evolving legislative demands that the governor has laid out as pre-conditions to a budget deal?
Well, it was definitely the latter, with maybe a little bit of the former.
With his ploy, Madigan erased all doubt that he is prepared to push beyond the May 31 scheduled adjournment of the Legislature, and possibly all the way past the November elections, without a state budget for the second straight year.
The problem with going beyond May 31 is that legislation then requires a super-majority for passage, making it that much more difficult to reach agreement.
Rauner and the Republicans seem similarly inclined toward continued brinksmanship with their righteous commitment to the governor’s Turnaround Agenda.
Meanwhile, Rome is burning, along with Paris, Milan, Vienna and all the other little European namesake Illinois towns that are no more immune to the need for state services than the residents of Chicago.
“Both sides think the other is going to blink first, and in the meantime, people are dying,” said Emily Miller, policy director at Voices for Illinois Children.
Dying may strike you as hyperbole, unless you are suicidal and seek help, only to find a six-month waiting list for treatment — just one of the many service gaps created by the state’s inability to agree on a budget.
After Madigan began circulating his budget plan, the Illinois Republican Party immediately began screeching about it necessitating a “massive” $7.1 billion tax increase to pay for it.
The problem with that is that Rauner has already said he will support a tax increase, too. His budget director even participated in a “working group” of state legislators who suggested a $5.4 billion package of revenue increases. Rauner hasn’t explicitly endorsed that proposal, but it’s apparently in the realm of what he finds acceptable.
Perhaps the good folks at GOP headquarters can tell us at what level the tax hike that is inevitable will exceed the “massive” threshold.
Maybe $5.4 billion is the new demarcation line, although I expect that if Democrats tried to pass a tax hike of that size without giving the governor what he wants, he’d spend tens of millions of dollars on campaign commercials to tar and feather them.
Andrea Durbin of Illinois Collaboration on Youth, a leader of the Pay Now Illinois coalition that is suing for payment, expressed appreciation that Madigan’s plan would at least put those agencies in line to get paid next year. But she acknowledged it’s no solution.
“Everybody knows what needs to be done. I just wish they would do it,” Durbin said, referring to the need to raise taxes.
I hope she has better luck in court.