Editorial: Mixed, but clear, messages on budget urgency

  • Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan listens as Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his State of the State address last January.

    Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan listens as Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his State of the State address last January. Associated Press File Photo


A week ago, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan met for the first time in more than four months to talk about the two-year stalemate over an Illinois budget. Both have acknowledged that the problem is "urgent," though one wonders how the term applies to an issue they haven't felt the need to discuss together for a third of a year. Indeed, the statements each party released following the meeting depicted the work of both men as more of an effort to achieve a political aim than to achieve the balanced budget the Illinois Constitution requires.

Here's what Madigan said in a press release following the meeting: "I requested a meeting with Governor Rauner to ensure he understood my desire to pass a full-year budget and discuss the urgent need for a resolution to the state budget impasse. Throughout the governor's time in office, we have agreed to seven compromise budget bills when negotiations are allowed to focus on the budget. Schools, human service providers, rating agencies and thousands of others have asked us to do one thing -- pass a budget. I ask the governor to turn his focus to the budget."

The distortions and misrepresentations in that statement are too numerous to address individually here, but the overriding defect is so patently obvious it's almost embarrassing to have to point it out. If everyone is asking leaders "to do one thing - pass a budget," what did the speaker say or do in his 40 minutes with the governor to advance that goal?

He issued a nakedly partisan diatribe that couldn't possibly have invited the governor's acquiescence to its presumed objective of achieving a budget.

And the governor's assessment of the meeting? Here's the statement his office released: "For the first time in more than two years, Speaker Madigan today hinted that he may be willing to enact a truly balanced budget with changes that will help create jobs, properly fund our schools and lower property taxes. It's too soon to tell if the Speaker will ultimately agree to follow through, but the governor remains optimistic that all sides can work together to enact a balanced budget with changes that fix our broken system and restore balanced budgets for the long-term through strong economic growth."

At least that assessment made vague allusions to the issues separating the sides, but it too carries much more weight in blame than in suggestions of progress. Following as it did the release of the speaker's statement, it also begs the famous question of whether the governor and the speaker were at the same meeting.

An even clearer question these two statements invite is this: Who are these guys trying to kid?

It is next to impossible to read their statements as anything other than tacit vows to disregard any immediate call to address the ongoing, increasing and urgent problems facing, in Madigan's phrase, "schools, human service providers, rating agencies and thousands of others" - all while cloaking their dismissal in the jargon of commitment. The two have not met in the week since they produced their eloquent displays of statesmanship. Perhaps they need to refine their definition of "urgent."

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