Editorial: 'Illinois is back' - but to what?

  • Gov. J.B. Pritzker is surrounded by Republicans and Democrats as he celebrates the completion of the spring legislative session.

    Gov. J.B. Pritzker is surrounded by Republicans and Democrats as he celebrates the completion of the spring legislative session. Associated Press Photo

 
Posted6/3/2019 8:31 PM

Here's a little test of your speed-reading skills. How long would it take you to read 1,500 pages of a complex Illinois budget?

Think you could do it in roughly 12 hours? That's about 125 pages an hour -- or two pages a minute.

 

We're not saying it's impossible, but ... no, wait a minute, yes we are. It's impossible that even Illinois lawmakers, let alone Illinois taxpayers, read and faithfully digested the state's 1,581-page, $39.9 billion FY 2020 spending -- emphasize spending -- plan released to the public just 12 hours before lawmakers started voting on it Friday. This, remember, amid a flurry of other late-session bills that included a doubling of the state gas tax, a host of new taxes, a $45 billion infrastructure-improvement bill, legalized marijuana, relaxed restrictions on abortion and a massive expansion of casino gambling.

A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan himself all but admitted as much when he told reporters he wasn't aware that the budget the House approved included a 2.4% pay raise for lawmakers. State law automatically sets a cost-of-living raise for legislators unless they specifically refuse it, which they have done routinely every year since 2008. But the freeze, which The Associated Press said had been previously agreed to and was included in the budget the Senate sent to the House, disappeared in the House version. When the Senate tried to at least force a vote to put individual lawmakers on record supporting or rejecting the pay hike, even that effort disappeared through a deft series of procedural maneuvers.

Let all this sink in for a moment. First, of course, you have to decide whether to believe that the House speaker, known for his shrewd attention to detail, wasn't aware his budget didn't include an agreed-to freeze of a $1,600 pay raise. Then, you can ponder how many individual lawmakers missed that omission. Then, you can wonder just what lawmakers did read in the massive dump of budgetary details and policy changes they approved in the last hours of the session, issues that by any assessment will dramatically alter the personality of our state.

Ultimately, you cannot avoid one conclusion -- that "business as usual" is no longer a slur in Illinois political rhetoric. Since the days of Rod Blagojevich, lawmakers at least have paid lip service to deriding last-minute budgets approved through backroom deals and political gimmickry. This year, they embraced them with a great big Land of Lincoln bear hug.

Reflecting on the results of the frenzied final days of the session, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, flanked by prominent representatives of both parties, proudly declared, "Illinois is back." Just what we're back to is open to interpretation, but, however you define it, all Illinoisans should be disturbed by how we got there.

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