Tom Kacich: Don't look now, but budget deal may be in works
Senator Chapin Rose joins WDWS Thursday at 7:40 with more Springfield news.
The big problems in Illinois government get bigger every day — bills unpaid, jobs lost, programs closed, credit ratings shredded, people leaving the state — and until Monday, no one seemed willing to risk their political careers to start the rehab we all know is needed.
Up stepped the leaders of the Illinois Senate, Democrat John Cullerton and Republican Christine Radogno. Finally.
It's much too soon to call what they've proposed a rescue plan — their gigantic "grand bargain" is so big, so politically fragile, so easily upset — but it's the long-needed acknowledgment that the state government is hurting the people, businesses and institutions it's supposed to be looking out for.
Their plan touches so many hot-button issues — pensions, tax increases, term limits, gambling expansion, school funding reform, minimum wage, government consolidation, property taxes, borrowing — that lawmakers might need asbestos mitts to push the "yes" button at their desks, if it even gets that far.
But that's what lawmakers are elected to do, not to sit on the sidelines as the cage match between Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan continues to bruise and bloody everyone else.
So who is going to stand with Radogno and Cullerton? They're going to need at least 28 more votes on each one of these bills to get them over to the House.
Two area senators, Republican Jason Barickman of Bloomington and Democrat Scott Bennett, say they'll be there for at least some of the roll calls.
"I recognize it's a steep hill that we're trying to climb," said Barickman. "The idea I believe is that the public wants to see our government work. They want to see progress. They want to see the two sides come together.
"I think it was important for us to show the public what a compromise might look like."
It isn't pretty, he acknowledged. There's an income tax increase for one thing, and a new tax on sugary drinks. Also yet to be introduced is a school funding reform that probably will mean less state money to rich school districts and more to poor ones.
"This is a process designed to move the ball forward. It's ugly, messy. I think it's going to generate lots of opposition," Barickman said. "And very few people are going to step back and say, 'Oh, yeah, I'm in love with it. Let's do it.' But our job is to find a way to show some progress, to take our constituents' thoughts on these various issues in mind and to come up with a plan that can get bipartisan support and a signature from the governor."
The plan is to have the Cullerton/Radogno proposal introduced today and to begin hearings on the 14 separate pieces of legislation Jan. 24.
"We're going to have to act expeditiously," Radogno told reporters on Monday. "This is not something we're going to let drag on."
Why the rush?
"The farther you get into the (legislative) session, the closer you are to the 2018 elections, and then these tough decisions become even tougher to make. The problem is that every month that goes by and the impasse becomes a greater crisis, it becomes more expensive to fix," explained Bennett. "There are particular bills that I don't think I'll be voting for. But overall, there is going to be criticism anytime you stick your neck out there. People are going to say, 'Why are you willing to work with the governor when he hasn't worked with us?' And on the Republican side, people are going to say that this or that doesn't go far enough."
Bennett called the plan "a good framework" and praised Radogno and Cullerton for taking the lead.
"You've got to admire them. You've got to be impressed," he said.
Cullerton, for example, is going against Madigan's demand that the state budget and Rauner's list of reforms be segregated. Radogno is bucking Rauner's insistence that Democrats alone pass a tax increase.
"Our state is suffering incredibly," said Barickman. "This is impacting every community around the state. It's had significant effects in East Central Illinois, whether it be down at Eastern Illinois (University), or the long-term care community. And so we've got to find a path forward."
"We're two years into this," noted Cullerton. "We don't have a budget. It's an embarrassment to the state. There's some real damage that's already happened."
For the next two weeks, lawmakers will hear from voters about the package, details of which likely will dribble out over time, before going back to Springfield and debating it.
"We all have some time ahead in our schedules where we're going to be in our districts. I am certain we're going to hear from constituents on all sides of all of these issues," Barickman said.
My advice: No matter how much you may dislike some of the bills in this package or the fine print in the bills, be respectful to these legislators.
They, at least, are showing courage and are willing to consider fixes for our sorry state.
In one of its last votes before adjourning for good Tuesday morning, the Illinois House adopted a resolution honoring the Morrow Plots at the University of Illinois on its 140th anniversary in 2016.
"The Morrow Plots were established in 1876 and are located in the heart of the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois; they are the oldest continuous agricultural research fields in the United States and are predated only by the Rothamsted Field in England, which was established in 1843," said the resolution.
The resolution noted that only three of the original 10 plots remain in place but that plot three has grown corn continuously since 1876 and that a two-year crop sequence that started in 1876 continues in plot four, although soybeans replaced oats in the rotation in 1976.
"Important practices and invaluable knowledge discovered at the Morrow Plots concerning crop rotation, good soil fertility, weed control and much more have impacted agriculture not only across the state but the country and the entire world," the resolution said of the plot along Gregory Drive in Urbana.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 217-351-5221 or at email@example.com.