Jim Dey: Madigan wins ... again

Jim Dey: Madigan wins ... again

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Hey, Mike Madigan.

The news is out. Lord, it's all over town.

It's just like Hank Williams wrote in his country classic — you win again.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan almost always wins, and he did so again last week when he schooled Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a multi-millionaire businessman before he was elected in 2014, in the art of politics.

Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, held his ground for two long, painful years in an unprecedented budget battle with Rauner and minority Republicans in the General Assembly. Then he shattered the GOP's collective resolve and cast his foes to the fore winds.

T'was a great victory, perhaps the greatest of Madigan's 46-year career in the Illinois House. For a man in his dotage — Madigan is 75 — he remains in his prime. As a political tactician, he has few — if any — peers.

When it comes to policy, however, it's a different story altogether. Not, of course, that Madigan cares about policy — he's concerned about maintaining his majority in the Illinois House and, through it, leveraging his influence through state, county and local government in Illinois.

Unfortunately, public policy is what the people have to live with, and Illinois is not a pretty picture.

The Land of Lincoln has reached a degraded financial state — budget debts, many billions in unpaid bills and many, many billions more in underfunded pensions.

The political status quo has been and is now an unmitigated disaster. That's why the new state budget — a $36.1 billion spending plan that includes $5 billion in personal and corporate income tax hikes — is such a curiosity. Madigan and his associates say the new budget will put Illinois on the road to recovery.

"...we did what was right for the future of our state," Madigan said after the Illinois House overrode Rauner's budget veto.

It's hard to see how. All our legislators did was more of what they have done in the past, most recently in January 2011. They raised taxes and then declared it "Miller time."

Here's how The Chicago Tribune put it.

"What are taxpayers getting for sending another $5 billion to Springfield? Business as usual," the newspaper editorialized.

Sure, state government should see a substantial increase in revenue courtesy of the tax increases and that will provide relief for entities like the University of Illinois and social service entities that rely on state dollars. But that's a short-term effect.

The issue is whether higher taxes alone will be enough to keep up with the new spending programs that dance — like ginger bread men — in the mind of every legislator. It's hard to see how.

The General Assembly hasn't passed a true balanced budget since the 1990s. Instead, it's passed budgets with phony numbers and relied on gimmicks, like skipping pension payments, to balance spending and revenue on paper. Indeed, state officials, collectively, have shown a bizarre dedication to the statu quo, even though that status quo has Illinois trailing the economic growth and job creation of neighboring states.

During this 2-year-plus budget nightmare that just ended, Gov. Rauner repeatedly acknowledged his willingness to accept higher taxes if legislators would take action to boost the state's economy.

That may be a pipe dream to some. Democrats appear to reject it in toto. But real economic growth is what's required to generate the job creation and natural revenue increases the state must have if it's ever to pull itself out of its current fiscal hole.

So even if the economy should gain steam — and it may — there's no reason the Illinois economy won't continue to trail that of neighboring states. That's what happened in past years.

That means Illinois won't get from here to there without making its economic climate more attractive to job-creators who wish either to expand here or relocate and have choices among states about where to do so.

Much of the debate surrounding Rauner's economic proposals — changes to worker's compensation rules or prevailing wage guidelines — descended to an infantile level. Critics suggested greedy business owners simply want to exploit workers by forcing them to accept subsistence wages. Speaker Madigan said middle-class families would be driven onto the welfare rolls or somehow stripped of their health insurance and forced to go to emergency rooms for medical care.

But don't kid yourself.

Construction and manufacturing jobs are now and will remain some of the best-paying out there. People line up around the block to apply for them. Unfortunately, Illinois' current economic climate encourages neither.

That's one reason why Greg Baise, president and CEO, Illinois Manufacturers' Association, was distressed with the legislature's no-can-do approach on anything other than tax increases.

He said "Illinois lawmakers ignored reality" and "drove another nail in the coffin of job creators" by failing to address "the root causes of our stagnant economic growth."

The numbers are indisputable. But even as Illinois is failing, our elected officials, collectively, cling to a notion — one they believe deep in their heart — that problems that are ignored eventually will go away.

At least that's the theory behind last week's legislative machinations. It hasn't worked yet. But there's always a first time, right?

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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SteveBrown wrote on July 09, 2017 at 8:07 am

It is always to supplement Dye's omissions. Lets focus on the number of times Rayner double crosssed GOP legislators.......lots. They finally got fed and put state programs and servicesc ahead fattening 1%er wallet. More later

Steve Brown is middle of the road think tank who works with Illinois moderates including Mike Madigan.