Editorial: Glimmer of hope, but far to go on state budget
What got done during Tuesday's legislative session in a state that's gone five months without a budget and has simply stopped paying for things ranging from human services to lottery winnings?
In a concrete way, nothing.
A bill to resume giving towns a share of gas taxes and gambling revenue made it through the House but won't get a Senate vote this year, so the checks are not in the mail. Two other votes failed in the House.
In a much more elusive way, however, something encouraging might have happened.
The vote on disbursing the money to municipalities was 115-1, unusual near-unanimity in the fractious House after Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner dropped his opposition in what his camp said was the spirit of compromise. Even some in the Democratic majority said talks between the sides seem like progress, though most added they didn't think the governor gave up much ground.
Still, Rauner deserves credit for the gesture. After a half year that's been disastrous for many in Illinois, we'd like to think it's a step toward a balanced budget by the end of the year.
It's still a rocky path. Rauner nemesis Michael Madigan, the 30-year Democratic speaker of the House, put a hold on the bill distributing the gas and gambling money, preventing it being delivered to the Senate for possible passage. And while Rauner eased his cuts to some social services Tuesday, Republicans were angered when Democrats tried to push legislation on it anyway.
Such power politics obstruct the business that needs to be done.
Rauner's initiative, though welcome, is a mere baby step compared to the giant strides that remain. Tuesday's debates under the Capitol dome revolved around trying to devise more ways for Illinois to cope with having no budget, rather than focusing on how to get a budget. The real line in the sand hasn't moved.
On one side, Rauner wants a pro-business agenda and without it, won't entertain proposals for more revenue to balance the state budget. On the other, Democrats led by Madigan won't support Rauner's plan that weakens unions, among other things.
Without a budget Illinois goes along as it is, with decisions on who gets paid based on judges' orders or political clout, and some of the neediest of the state at the bottom of that heap.
Can Rauner, Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton bring themselves to negotiate on that, the heart of the problem? Most people don't expect much to come of a public meeting between Rauner and the legislative leaders next Wednesday initially brokered by good government groups in hopes of breaking the logjam.
Conventional wisdom holds that there will be no budget breakthrough until after the first of the year, well after the deadline for new candidates to file to run in next year's legislative elections.
Let's not be conventional. Illinois needs to start its recovery now. Whether this week was a breakthrough toward compromise will be best judged after we see a state budget. There's no more room for delay.