Editorial: Time for lawmakers to show they're serious about budget cooperation

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted11/12/2016 1:00 PM
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  • Completing a balanced budget for next year and beyond will be a top priority when lawmakers return to the Capitol in Springield on Tuesday.

    Completing a balanced budget for next year and beyond will be a top priority when lawmakers return to the Capitol in Springield on Tuesday. Associated Press File Photo

An assortment of suburban Democratic incumbents won re-election last week -- in some cases with our support -- on the strength of their promises to be independent and budget conscious. In coming days, they'll have a chance, and an obligation, to prove themselves.

Last summer, after forcing the state through a difficult year and a half without a budget and with the public outcry reaching a fever pitch, lawmakers managed to limp into the summer with a so-called stopgap budget.

That kept state services operating and enabled payments to return for struggling human services agencies, but only temporarily. The clock is quickly winding down on that six-month reprieve, and settling on a true, viable spending plan for the rest of the year must be the top priority of lawmakers as they return to Springfield for the fall veto session beginning on Tuesday.

As hard as it may be to believe considering all that we've gone through, the outlook isn't necessarily promising.

From the start of this crisis, Senate President John Cullerton has been the one Democratic leader to show a tendency toward creativity and cooperation, but House Speaker Michael Madigan continued to sound obstinate last week even as he saw his party's supermajority evaporate in Tuesday's elections.

Madigan dismissed any interpretation that the Republican gains in the House were a reflection on his leadership, instead declaring that by leaving Democrats with a majority in the House and Senate, voters want to "maintain a strong check on Bruce Rauner."

That is hardly the tone lawmakers should be invoking on the cusp of the veto session. Democrats lost four seats and in most campaigns that they won, especially here in the suburbs, a central theme was independence from party leadership.

Whatever your loyalties, that has to be seen as a message, in the words of House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, "that it is time for Democrats to join Gov. Rauner and legislative Republicans in enacting reforms."

It is likely that voters don't want more of Gov. Rauner's own stubborn insistence on tying his Turnaround Agenda to a budget deal. It is certain that they don't want continued Democratic folly like the approval of a budget proposal $7 billion in the red.

For many Democrats, the political point of the summer stopgap was to mollify the masses until after the election, when their supermajority presumably could ram through a veto-proof tax increase in a larded-up new spending plan. The removal of that supermajority has stymied that option, and forces Democrats to accommodate Republican concerns on the way to producing a budget that equitably balances spending priorities and revenues.

That doesn't mean suburban Democrats, nor the legislature itself, must bow to Republican interests, but it does mean that they have to lead the way where their leadership previously has not -- in finding ways to accommodate Republican concerns that meet the needs of all people in the state.

The public's outrage has been temporarily calmed, but it will surge again with a vengeance if lawmakers on either side return to the obstinance that has defined the past two years.

Suburban lawmakers campaigned on promises they would not be part of such a return. This week we'll get to see how sincere they were.

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