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posted: 2/16/2017 11:00 AM

Editorial: The governor's call for 'political will' on Illinois budget crisis

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  • Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner acknowledges lawmakers as he prepares to deliver his budget address at the Capitol Wednesday.

    Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner acknowledges lawmakers as he prepares to deliver his budget address at the Capitol Wednesday.
    Associated Press

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

OK, lawmakers, the governor has opened the door to ending the state's budget impasse. Charge through.

Yes, that's still easier said than done. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner still wasn't pinpoint specific Wednesday on what he'll accept in a Fiscal Year 2018 spending plan, but in his clearest terms yet, he acknowledged that the key parameters he'll accept are in line with those under discussion in the legislature, and he provided some general direction on what he won't accept.

In his budget message for the coming year before a joint session of the House and Senate, Rauner tacitly acknowledged that the budget proposal he was submitting would not get any more attention from lawmakers than either of his previous two budgets, and that any true solution would have to come from the General Assembly.

He touched on highlights of his own proposal -- including "a record level of funding for schools," continued criminal justice reform, efforts to fight opioid drug abuse, and more money for English learners, state troopers, transportation, human services and MAP grants for needy college students.

But more significantly, his message made several key philosophical acknowledgments, including:

• A solution will need both revenue increases and spending cuts.

• Pension reforms proposed in the Senate can be part of the ultimate answer (especially, he noted, if new Tier III alternatives providing choice of 401(k)-style options are added.)

• Workers' compensation reforms under discussion are an acceptable start toward more a more business-friendly economic climate.

• A broader sales-tax base can be part of the equation.

These are key points, and though this is not the first time Rauner has made most of them, the governor's position was more emphatic and clear than ever. And, he offered direction on where he thought the Senate plan needs work. For instance, he called for an annual spending cap, a permanent, not temporary, property tax freeze, and options allowing "any increase in the income tax" to be "stepped down." He said he wants even stronger workers' comp reforms than the current Senate package, doesn't want medicine and retirement income taxed and urges concessions on health insurance for state employees.

Perhaps the most important statement in his message, though, went unspoken. Rauner's expressions of support for the approach, if not all the details, of the package struggling for life in the Senate was a clear call for lawmakers to resist the hard-line special interests -- on all sides -- who would sabotage any compromise that includes provisions they don't like. If legislators can do that, he suggested, they can reach a plan that he can support.

"This is now a question of political will," he said. "I know I'm willing -- I hope you are, too."

Political will, of course, has been the missing ingredient since the beginning of this crisis. Some of the loudest applause during the governor's speech came early in the address after he read a litany of the state's systemic, geographic and economic strengths, then insisted "We can do this together."

If that applause was an indication of legislative political will and if the governor's still-vague assertions were a gesture of his, perhaps there's reason for cautious hope, if not yet optimism. All we can say for sure after the governor's speech is, again, the door to a solution is open. Let's not wait until June to see if it's wide enough to get through.

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