Failure across the board

Failure across the board

Is Illinois really one of 50 states in the United States? Or is it some kind of alternative universe of government dysfunction?

Members of the Illinois Senate aren't scheduled to reconvene until April 25. Their counterparts in the Illinois House are holding a few committee meetings this week, but doing little else.

As for Gov. Bruce Rauner, he's been on a two-day, campaign-style swing of eight cities, including Peoria on Tuesday and Champaign on Wednesday. His staff stated Rauner is "traveling the state to talk about the need for a balanced budget with reforms." But his tour bears a remarkable resemblance to hustling for votes while pressing his budget and legislative agenda.

Meanwhile, the number of Democratic candidates for governor continues to grow. The latest to say he's considering a bid for his party's gubernatorial nomination is state Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood. He has distinguished himself as one of the few Democratic House members who doesn't do whatever he's told to do by House Speaker Michael Madigan.

So, as usual, it's politics as usual in Illinois.

Politics, of course, has its place. But it's supposed to be a prelude to actual governance, something Illinois has been lacking for nearly 20 years and desperately needs at this time.

This state is failing, and very few of those in charge seem to show any appreciation — or concern — about that sad fact.

How else does one explain the fact that our elected officials have gone AWOL — absent without leave — during a period of financial desperation in Illinois?

Well, actually, there may be an explanation, one that foreshadows continued disaster for the people of this state.

Have Gov. Rauner, a Republican, and members of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly — either one or both chambers — given up hope on working out a compromise budget and reform package? Are they really prepared to extend the time the state has gone without a budget from nearly two years, which it is now, through the November 2018 gubernatorial election?

Are Speaker Madigan and his Democrats waiting to elect a governor from their own party before fulfilling their constitutional obligations?

It sure looks like it. Perhaps that's why Speaker Madigan is pushing for another stopgap budget to keep some state entities going for a few more months.

It's clear the people of Illinois have had it with this kind of scorched-earth approach to doing — or not doing — the public's business. But it's clear that the public's disgust with the inability of Rauner and the Legislature to work out their differences is irrelevant to the political calculation each side is making.

So how much more will the state's unpaid bills be allowed to grow? It's nearly $12.9 billion now.

How much more than it takes in will the state continue to spend before a formal spending plan is adopted?

State pensions are underfunded by $131 billion now. What will the underfunding number be in two years?

Just passing a budget, of course, is no panacea. But it is a first step toward putting the ship of state back on a proper course, assuming that's even possible. A second important step is taking the minimal steps necessary toward creating an economic environment in which natural revenue growth combined with revenue generated by tax increases can fund government at an acceptable level.

Without these necessary policy changes, this state's finances will never be anything but chaotic.

Democrats blame Rauner for the state's dismal financial picture. But they'd be well advised to recall the days of former Democratic Govs. Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn.

The budgets passed during the tenure of those two were loaded with gimmicks used to hide the state's steady financial decline.

Quinn tried to solve the problem by persuading the Legislature to pass a 67 percent income tax hike (from 3 percent to 5 percent) in January 2011. The billions of dollars generated eased the state's cash crunch and was used to make skyrocketing pension contributions. But the state still owed billions in unpaid bills, an obligation that tax increase was meant to eliminate.

Illinois needs dramatic change. It's not that the status quo is not working well; it's collapsing.

For starters, Illinois needs to re-engineer its budget, tax and business climate. So far, Rauner and Madigan have failed to do that. Madigan contends all Illinois needs is higher taxes, and Rauner argues it's more complicated than that if this state ever is to thrive again.

There was some hope a couple weeks ago that Rauner and a group of Senate Democrats and Republicans could reach an accommodation they could present to Speaker Madigan. Each would give something to get something. But the two sides failed to reach agreement. Instead of sharing credit for doing their jobs, they're pointing fingers of blame at each other for not doing their jobs.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

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catsrule wrote on April 13, 2017 at 9:04 am

The most destructive first 2 years of any governorship in Illinois history. By every measure even according to the ultra right leaning Chicago Tribune editorial board, Illinois is in worse condition now then before Bruce Rauner was elected. Article 8 Section 2 of the Illinois Constitution directs the governor to propose a balanced budget; Bruce Rauner has failed to do so. Holding the budget hostage for an agenda for which he has no mandate let alone 60 votes in the house or 30 in the Senate. He undermined the efforts of Sen Radogno and Sen Cullerton for a meaningful compromise. Rauner's massive wealth and financial support from the billionaire funded and discredited Illinois Policy Institute doesn't change what preceded. Leadership means influencing change, not constant campaigning while allowing the state to be destroyed.

ratiocination wrote on April 13, 2017 at 10:04 am

The NG editorial board is distorting history to make Rauner's disaster seem like nothing new. Rich Miller lays out the actual facts:

At the end of calendar year 2014, just before that tax hike expired, the comptroller’s office had $4.36 billion in vouchers on hand. The office estimated there was another $2 billion which hadn’t yet been processed by the Quinn administration, but the comptroller was paying the state’s bills in under 30 days back then. In other words, we had a “normal” backlog - the sort you’d have in your own checking account as you were waiting to pay your bills before their deadlines.

The tax hike legislation created a special revenue stream in case the state sold bonds to pay off its pile of over-due bills, but the GA couldn’t muster the three-fifths majorities to borrow the money (mainly because Republicans refused to cooperate), so it had to pay those bills off bit by bit, and it was clearly succeeding.

Today’s backlog is $12.8 billion. Vendors are waiting up to six months to be paid.

What happened? The tax hike partially expired and no “real” budget has been passed since then to pare back spending and/or increase revenues.

The refusal to accept these basic facts never ceases to amaze me.