Editorial: Unacceptable - Citizens must again press lawmakers for budget

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted5/24/2017 1:00 AM
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  • House Speaker Michael Madigan, left, and Senate President John Cullerton listen as Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly at the Capitol last February.

    House Speaker Michael Madigan, left, and Senate President John Cullerton listen as Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly at the Capitol last February. Associated Press file photo

At some point, we realize, the repeated -- and repeatedly ignored -- calls for state leaders to set aside politics and produce a workable state budget take on a shrill and hopeless tone. We have to issue them anyway.

On behalf of sick, homeless, disabled, elderly and poor citizens who watch helplessly as services they rely on waste away from the state's slow or nonexistent payments, we have to keep complaining.

On behalf of suburban schools struggling to balance their own budgets amid slow and nonexistent payments from the state, we have to speak out.

On behalf of hundreds of suburban businesses that can only wait and hope to rise high enough on the crisis scale to collect some portion of money the state owes them -- a backlog of bills statewide now said to exceed $13 billion -- we must raise our voice.

We must repeat the message that state leaders claim to be hearing but seem congenitally incapable of absorbing: This is unacceptable.

A year ago -- on June 29, 2016, to be exact -- we joined with newspapers from around the state to impress on the governor, legislative leaders and lawmakers themselves our, and our fellow citizens', outrage and frustration over the lack of a state budget.

"Enough!" we all cried. Lawmakers responded with a feeble, six-month spending plan and another of their laughable promises to produce a full-year budget in November.

Now, nearly six more budgetless months have passed and the status of so-called budget negotiations amount to precisely this:

• The governor and the House speaker have met twice in five months only to produce accusatory releases blaming each other for the impasse.

• Dueling memos were issued from the Senate president and the governor earlier this month, each calling on the other to get involved and "deal."

• After months of struggle, the Democrat-led Senate Wednesday passed a budget based on Republican proposals but without a single Republican vote. The governor won't support it, because he wants a longer, if not permanent, property tax freeze or he won't accept the income tax increase the budget calls for. Speaker Michael Madigan promised the Senate's budget would be "thoughtfully considered" in the House, but given his record and that of the legislature over the last two tortuous years, who knows what that means?

Sadly, it most likely adds up to one of two results: Either, a hastily patched-together spending plan passed in the middle of the night at the budget deadline -- likely only to face the governor's veto -- or simply more months of brutally harmful impasse.

Or, in either case, that single word: Unacceptable.

That's why we're joining today with the Springfield Journal-Register and other newspapers from around the state to continue to press the message, not just to state leaders but to the rank-and-file lawmakers who must step up and show some leadership themselves. And to you, you citizens who as much as the lawmakers must understand that some achievement on a budget is better than no achievement, and who, come the next election campaign, must be willing to ignore the inevitable politics of partisan distortion and reward those lawmakers who come down on the side of achievement rather than continued obstructionism.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's latest stance is that he can't accept a budget that doesn't create structural changes he thinks will improve the state's long-term economic outlook. Senate President John Cullerton's latest position is that he's moved his Democratic caucus as far as he can manage. Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan has dispatched lieutenants to ask the governor where he will compromise.

All three of them point to the ticking clock with cries of warning, yet perhaps only Cullerton shows any recognition of the irony that the patient may die while the physicians squabble over how to ensure its long-term health.

Meanwhile, with just a week before the scheduled end of the legislative session and the potential for yet another mockery of the state constitution's requirement for a balanced budget, we newspapers, we citizens, we educators, we poor, we disabled, we elderly, we struggling businesses can protest with but one refrain: Unacceptable.

However shrill and familiar it may sound, it's a message we must keep repeating until it finally fights its way into our lawmakers' and our leaders' consciousness.

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