The Illinois House undertook on Thursday one of those convoluted exercises that only politicians can devise -- voting on a budget proposal before deciding whether to approve the funding source on which it relies. The House in fact took scores of votes, all somehow calculated to give some idea of the budget picture lawmakers ultimately can endorse.
Hoffman Estates Democrat Fred Crespo was among supporters of the first of many votes taken Thursday, a proposal for $38 billion-plus in spending that could not be accommodated without an extension of the 5 percent state income tax. But Crespo -- who, it must be said, showed at least enough foresight as chair of a budget committee earlier in the week to advance both a budget based on the tax extension and one without it -- said, "Just because we vote for one or the other (budget proposals) doesn't mean we're going to vote for an income tax increase."
What? Then why are you voting?
Grayslake Democrat Sam Yingling had a much better handle on the nature of Thursday's multiple charades. "It's irresponsible to vote for a budget with a fictional income source," he said.
In Springfield parlance, Thursday's actions had as much to do with political cover as with approving a budget. They provide enough budget variations so that when the dust settles almost any lawmaker can portray himself or herself as fiscally responsible, regardless of the ultimate conclusion regarding state spending. But don't be fooled, that ultimate conclusion is the truly telling indicator of whether lawmakers are committed to getting spending under control or are willing to let taxpayers bail them out again.
To some extent, it all but goes without saying that they won't get their real spending under control. Gov. Pat Quinn has fashioned a "not recommended budget" excluding the tax extension in which human services and education programs are, to use his own word, "savaged" by cuts without striving for the least creativity in prioritizing or accomplishing true budgetary needs. The message is clear: We will spend our way or those relying on us will suffer the consequences.
Case in point: Let's face it, as much as we consider ourselves friends of libraries and supporters specifically of Elgin's Gail Borden Library, is it really a show of the state's fiscal discipline to slip a $200,000 grant into the spending plan for a bookmobile unique to that specific facility? If that kind of, let's call it, magnanimity can be tucked away in the budget, what else is hidden in the massive spending plan whose sole purpose may be to provide cover or favor for lawmakers who vote "the right way?"
No, the 60 or so budget votes taken on Thursday only nominally aim to fashion a budget. But never forget that it is a budget that will not have a revenue source unless and until lawmakers approve extending the 5 percent income tax. If that happens, you have an excellent indicator of the credibility to stake on a lawmaker's promises. If it doesn't, you have a budget preordaining billions of dollars in unpaid bills or massive new borrowing.
Sound familiar? Sadly, all too.