Editorial: Illinois' broken government needs a new and bipartisan approach
There have been few periods in recent Illinois history so pregnant with consequence as the next two weeks of the state legislature.
Rounding the home stretch and straining toward a May 31 deadline for a budget, Illinois' lawmakers and governor must fashion a plan that somehow gets rid of a $6 billion fundamental deficit, lays out a schedule of spending that won't let the hole get persistently deeper and manages a public pension system that, already more than $110 billion in debt, is sucking away one precious dollar of every five in state revenue -- all conditions traceable to a decades-long pattern of political artifice and gamesmanship the state's citizens have repeatedly repudiated.
And what do we see occurring at this critical time with so much at stake?
• Partisan sniping over a doomed-from-the-start proposal to create localized so-called "right-to-work zones."
• Partisan sniping over a Democrat's proposal -- that of Marengo Democrat Jack Franks -- for a property tax freeze that Republicans see as a watered-down version of their own standard-bearer's plan, offered in their view solely as a political gambit to embarrass Gov. Bruce Rauner.
• Reports that Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan will likely call this week for yet another round of political theater with a vote on a previously rejected millionaire's tax.
• Rauner's parceling out of $400,000 to the campaigns of fellow Republicans just as the legislature prepares to take up key provisions of his agenda.
• A series of unpublished, closed-door meetings called by the governor whose participants are sworn to secrecy not only about the topics of conversation but about their own presence.
Do these sound like leaders dedicated to a new way of doing things in Springfield? Hardly. Indeed, all we've seen so far is a continuation of the strategies with which Illinoisans have grown all too familiar -- meaningless acts of political contrivance mingled with the acrid smell of dollar bills. As the clock ticks mercilessly away toward a budget deadline -- not to mention the state's solvency -- our leaders play games with symbolic shows of political muscle while secretive wheeling and dealing continues behind closed doors.
Despite all the promises and protestations of the past, we appear headed for the usual last-minute grumbles of resignation as thousands of pages of critical budgetary policy are thrust into the hands of lawmakers, still warm from the copy machine, along with instructions of how to vote.
Ladies and gentlemen of the legislature, we know you understand the ramifications of your work over the next 12 days, and we respect your desire on both sides to do what it takes to get it right. But the strategies of the past will serve no one well. They are how we got where we are today. So, Republican or Democrat, leader or front-line soldier, why not try something new?
Open the doors to those backrooms. Set aside thoughts of campaign cash and election consequences. Put first the consequences of your actions on the everyday citizens, workers and business people of the state -- and let them see your work in the full bright light of day. Sure, there are risks. But how could the outcome possibly be worse than what the actions of the past have produced so far?