Editorial: Rauner must offer a budget that gets and holds lawmakers' attention

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner may never face a more consequential moment in his tenure as governor than that which awaits him Wednesday. The financial wizard elected on his promise to get the state's fiscal house in order will offer his third budget proposal for the state, which hasn't had a full complete-year spending plan since he took office in January 2015. With Democratic leadership in the House almost gleefully obstructionist and leaders of both parties in the Senate struggling to get their members to swallow a difficult compromise, an acute demand weighs on the governor to provide bold leadership and pull Illinois out of its economic tailspin.

For all parties, the strategy so far has been one of demand and blame. Demand the other side accept preconditions as a prelude to compromise, then blame the other side for the resultant impasse.

For his part, Gov. Rauner says he's no longer prefacing his negotiations on acceptance of any part of his Turnaround Agenda, a precondition that Democrats used for two years to justify stalling on a budget agreement. But the governor does insist that any budget agreement must include "structural reforms" that will make Illinois more taxpayer and business friendly.

The Civic Federation of Chicago, a nonpartisan budget watchdog, essentially said last week that even that condition may be too much. In a statement Friday laying out its own suggestions for a steep income tax increase combined with firm spending controls, the federation said that because of the prolonged budget crisis, a solution now requires measures "to be more dramatic than those previously proposed."

Among other things in a five-year outline, the federation called for a hike in the income tax to 5.25 percent, a cap on new spending, elimination of the tax exemption on retirement income and expansion of the sales tax, albeit slightly reduced, to apply to more services.

Although it varies in details, the proposal takes a similar approach to the crisis as the Senate leadership's so-called "grand bargain," which would raise income taxes, broaden the sales tax base and put in place reforms in pensions and workers' compensation. Into this mix, the Illinois Policy Institute offered its own plan last month that would dramatically cut spending and initiate numerous reforms to balance the state's budget without a tax increase.

So, there is no shortage of ideas about how to solve Illinois' fiscal mess. There is only a shortage of leadership in getting it done. The House has all but said it won't seriously seek a solution on any terms but its own. The Senate is struggling to provide at least a foothold for a compromise.

Gov. Rauner is rightfully peeved that lawmakers have not given either of his previous budget proposals serious consideration. But neither has he given them a serious budget they couldn't ignore. That is the test of leadership he faces Wednesday. There are plenty of ideas on the table. Let him now put the weight of his office, his party and his personal influence behind a package that can work and can't be dismissed.

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