Budget silliness defies break between politics, administration

Posted11/6/2015 1:00 AM

In 1887, a young political science professor at Johns Hopkins University wrote an article about the difference between politics and administration in the operation of government. His name was Woodrow Wilson, and he went on to become governor of New Jersey and president of the United States. Wilson's article quickly became the holy grail of American public administration and to this day remains required reading in most introductory government courses.

Historically, Wilson's crisp delineation between politics and administration has turned out to be a governmental goal rather than a political reality -- case in point the state of Illinois. The current state budgetary stalemate between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders Michael Madigan and John Cullerton is the perfect example of combining and not separating politics from administration.


Much has been written and said about Illinois not passing a fiscal 2016 budget (now over four months) despite the fact that a budget is the keystone of any functioning government. Undoubtedly our state's revenue and expenditure issues are complicated, but the budgetary arguments on both sides reek with partisan and cloudy retelling of Illinois' recent fiscal past.

Thus my challenge in this article -- is to use "semi-Wilsonian" terms to break down the problem in a few sentences.

First, the combatants are more concerned about politics than policy.

Second, given various court decrees and orders mandating state funding of certain budget lines (approximately 90 percent) passage urgency has stalled.

Third, both sides' main object is positioning themselves for the 2016 primaries and general election -- thus, 2015 budgetary compromises make little sense if it hurts or hinders their political goals next year.

Lastly, most legislators in both parties recognize a Wilsonian advocacy of separating politics from administration at this time and in this state -- is not only unrealistic, but politically "life-threatening" either from a primary or general-election challenge.

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Partisan fellow travelers on both sides are urging the lead combatants to fight on and not retreat. What nonsense!

Do "Raunerites" truly believe that words like "turn around" or "reform" can magically resolve the state's long-standing fiscal woes? Moreover, demanding lengthy political/constitutional changes e.g. term limits and/or legislative redistricting reforms be used as clubs to stop passage of an annual state budget is simply silly.

On the other hand, do "Madiganites" or "Cullertonites" truly believe they are fighting a life-or-death battle for middle-class Illinoisans by standing firm against changes in the state's business climate or the unsustainable public employee pension benefits? That also is simply silly.

In sum, both sides should fight out the above political battles in 2016 and not 2015. Many people in Illinois who need government services are hurting, while the state remains "budgetless."

And yes, Wilson himself would be shocked if he suddenly reappeared in Illinois today and saw the state's judiciary acting as both the executive and legislative branch of government.

And yes, that too -- is simply silly.

Paul Green is director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Schaumburg.

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