Editorial: Enough! Time for leaders, lawmakers to quit the politics and produce a budget

  • From left, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton at the governor's State of the State speech in January.

    From left, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton at the governor's State of the State speech in January. Associated Press File Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 6/29/2016 10:12 AM

Today the Daily Herald joins with newspapers around the state that are entreating the lawmakers and leaders of Illinois with a simple demand:

Enough.

 

Enough of the silly political games intended to provide quote fragments on campaign fliers rather than money for Illinois schoolchildren.

Enough delaying votes until after elections so that incumbent lawmakers won't have to be accountable at the ballot box for the decisions they make. As if they make decisions.

Enough surrendering to the courts the responsibility to determine what "critical" services will get funded and what populations of elderly, disabled and needy will be left out in the cold.

Enough bending the demands of the constitution to appear to meet the letter of its requirements for a balanced budget every year without meeting its practical expectation -- a viable, balanced annual spending plan.

Lawmakers are returning to Springfield today, presumably to take up a "stopgap" budget intended to maintain some basic services and possibly even let schools open on time. To them, we say it is not enough to try. This is the barest of bare minimums that must be accomplished.

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Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and senators and representatives, each and all of you, we have had it.

Not just we inconsequential newspaper and media institutions, but we all-important citizens of Illinois, who have watched as you allowed the state's economy to be pushed to the precipice of bankruptcy and its credit rating to plummet to the depths of ignominious junk.

We teachers and administrators at public schools who must try to run our operations without knowing how much money to expect -- or whether to expect any at all -- from a government whose foundational document declares us to be its highest priority.

We tens of thousands of low-income university and community college students who have lost our financial aid and our ability to continue our educations.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

We disabled and needy citizens -- at least a million of us so far, according to the United Way -- who count on state funding to a safety net of agencies that provide food, shelter and services -- a safety net so shredded it will take years to repair, even after some sort of budget is created.

We thousands of workers for those agencies who assist the state's most-vulnerable citizens but now find ourselves without jobs.

We travelers who after this Friday may find our roads clogged and dangerous as construction projects shut down for lack of funds.

We, all of us and thousands more affected in countless ways, have had it.

Enough.

For two years in a row, rather than produce a balanced budget that will require real, practical spending restraints and let his party members stand accountable for them, House Speaker Michael Madigan has delivered a budget calling for billions of dollars more in spending than revenues will support. This year the deficit is $7 billion.

And as heinous as such a brazen political act is, remember this: His members have let him do it. No suburban Democrats -- nor downstate nor Chicago Democrats, for that matter -- have stood at the speaker's doorstep and demanded, "Mr. Speaker, this is an irresponsible act you are committing in our name. I protest." Only five in the House -- Scott Drury, of Highwood; Jack Franks, of Marengo; Stephanie Kifowit, of Aurora; Elaine Nekritz, of Northbrook; and Carol Sente, of Vernon Hills -- and four in the Senate -- Melinda Bush, of Grayslake; Julie Morrison, of Deerfield; Laura Murphy, of Des Plaines; and Mike Noland, of Elgin -- showed enough backbone to refuse to sign on to the sham of the speaker's unbalanced budget.

Ladies and gentlemen of the legislature, know this. We have had it.

Enough.

If you cannot stand up to your leaders and demand responsible leadership, how can we stand behind you?

And this applies to Republicans equally well.

Our Republican governor campaigned on a promise of economic competency, relationship building and compromise "to focus like a laser" -- as he repeatedly vowed -- to repair Illinois' fractured financial condition. Yet today we find ourselves in even worse shape than when he took office 18 months ago.

He has offered budget proposals as required by the constitution, but for far too long, he has tied his support for a spending plan to his controversial Turnaround Agenda, a collection of many important reforms, but none vital to the immediate financial operation and well-being of the state.

Where were the Republican voices -- suburban or otherwise -- demanding a more productive strategy? There have been plenty of complaints against the other party. There has been all too little soul searching within.

Enough.

Today, the legislature is due back in Springfield, faced with two very practical opportunities. One is a bill that, for six months, would ensure funding for some of the most-critical government services and provide increased revenues for schools so that they can open in the fall. A second adds funding for higher education, MAP grants, and human services.

It is almost unbelievable to consider that even these minimal proposals will not pass, but there's a very real possibility Speaker Madigan and President Cullerton won't even allow votes on them, because the leaders insist on a school funding proposal that puts taxpayers from the suburbs and downstate on the hook for fixing the devastating problems of Chicago's schools. What reasoning could possibly induce suburban lawmakers -- notably suburban Democratic lawmakers, even those whose districts include a few schools that would reap modest benefits from the proposal -- to support such a strategy, much less such an approach to school funding?

No sound reasoning, of course; merely politics. Party leaders are holding even the inadequate stopgap budget hostage without the governor's support for their Chicago-centric school formula. And, it is an open secret in Springfield that no long-term budget strategy -- including a likely tax increase supported by many Democrats -- will be presented for a legislative vote until after the November elections, when incumbent lawmakers will not have to try to explain to their constituents why they voted to make them pay higher taxes for services they aren't getting and for Chicago Public Schools operations that the citizens of Chicago themselves are not willing to take responsibility for.

Enough.

The governor, the House speaker and the Senate president should be embarrassed to appear in public with so little to show for the labors -- if that's an accurate word -- of the past two years. Lawmakers who support them and report to them share equally in their shame.

The stopgap proposals available today should be the minimum citizens expect. And should they be adopted, the very next step should be to take up responsible long-term school-funding reforms -- and they're out there -- that provide adequate support for schools and equality of opportunities throughout the state without taking money away from suburban school systems.

Then, lawmakers must dig their hands deep into the moist soil of the governor's Turnaround Agenda, finding responsible ways to address the economic crisis caused by high costs of workers' compensation, unemployment insurance and lawsuits and low rates of job growth and business development.

They can do this only one way, by doing what every governor from Rauner back through George Ryan has promised but never delivered -- changing the way Illinois' legislature operates. By eschewing political manipulations, by standing up to political leaders and by compromising to produce results.

It's time now. Today.

Enough.

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