Editorial: If state leaders won't produce budget, the rest of us will have to get creative
One of the telltale signs of leaders who are losing their grip appears when ideas begin pouring in from all corners to fill the vacuum left by their lack of leadership.
Such must certainly be the case involving Illinois' continuing budget crisis, two weeks after an anemic veto session failed to provide any hope and continuing closed-door meetings of the governor and legislative leaders produced only more of the name calling and finger pointing that have been the hallmark of budget debate for two years, actually longer if you really analyze what has passed for budgeting in Illinois. We've heard a few wild ideas lately, and we have a couple fanciful thoughts of our own to throw into the mix.
Last week, suggested solutions ranged from a call by Barrington Hills Republican state Rep. David McSweeney for lawmakers to be sequestered in Springfield until they hammer out an agreement to a published suggestion that the governor and lawmakers trade pension reform for a $215 million Chicago schools bailout. These types of stretches may at first glance seem steeped in fantasy, but they begin to gain credibility when you consider that they are about the only constructive ideas that have been offered in months.
McSweeney's call during a discussion with Democratic state Rep. Sam Yingling of Grayslake on WTTW Channel 11's "Chicago Tonight" was nothing new for him. He's been urging the governor to bring rank-and-file lawmakers into the budget process for months, and, oh, if only there were a mechanism for that. Lawmakers have toyed with so-called rank-and-file working groups, but these too have been tainted with the specter of ever-hovering party leadership. Beyond that, the image of 118 representatives and 59 senators trying to hash out a comprehensive state spending plan suggests the very picture of chaos. And yet, one wonders how even chaos could fail more spectacularly than the stifling obstinance among state leaders.
There is perhaps something tempting in the notion of adopting a once union-backed pension reform plan whose constitutionality might pass court muster, but reviving that Democratic-inspired proposal needs a lot more analysis and discussion, as does any CPS bailout, before we can talk about viability in a long-term budget.
Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan seems happy enough to let universities and social services twist in the wind if a budget can't be reached by Dec. 31. Imagine that.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic Senate President John Cullerton have both been more open to discussion, but Madigan's intransigence is beginning to suggest a sinister strategy of gridlock that could continue until an election showdown with the governor in 2018.
Which brings those of us living in the present, we who worry about what will happen to the state in the next two years and beyond, back to that vacuum. We'd like to fill it now with a union-style protest of 177 rank-and-file lawmakers from both parties marching on Springfield with signs and pitchforks and no per diems, demanding something supportable to vote on. We'd like to see a rebellion by resolute suburban Democrats refusing, however quixotically, to support Madigan's re-election as speaker.
Sound like the impossible dream? Maybe. But, if the leaders don't fill the void soon, they'd better brace for an onslaught of even crazier ideas than these.