Anybody listening?

Anybody listening?

Public criticism, no matter how shrill, hasn't caught the attention of Illinois' top elected officials.

As has become his custom, the head of the Chicago-based Civic Federation this week unleashed another verbal blast at Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled Legislature over their failure to come to a compromise agreement on a state budget.

Civic Federation President Laurence Msall chastised Gov. Rauner for proposing a deficit budget that ignores the state's $12 billion backlog of unpaid bills while relying on "one-time" revenue resources and legislative policy changes to generate the income required to balance the budget.

At the same time, Msall blasted legislators for their "spectacular failure" in meeting their constitutional obligation to pass a budget for what could be the third-straight year.

"Springfield's spectacular failure to pass a budget continues to do unprecedented harm to Illinois residents, especially the elderly, students, the mentally ill and any person or business that hopes to build a future here," said Msall.

He's right, of course. But so what? Is anyone in Springfield paying sufficient attention to the travesty that passes for responsible governance in Springfield?

Obviously not. If so, Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders — Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan — would have recognized the leverage both sides maintain and worked out a deal a long time ago — an agreement where both sides got some of what they want.

But that hasn't happened and, ominously, it doesn't look like it's going to happen. Just this week, Speaker Madigan appointed a committee of Democratic legislators to "negotiate" with Rauner over the budget. One of his committee members is state Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie, the same Lang who months ago spoke publicly of his willingness to go through Rauner's four-year term without a budget deal. So no one should hold his breath waiting for Madigan's committee to make a deal, especially since the governor already is working with a bipartisan group of state Senate members, led by Cullerton, on a similar agreement.

That so-called "grand bargain" hasn't gone anywhere, but hope springs eternal that Rauner, Cullerton and Republican Senate leader Christine Radogno can work out something both sides can live with and then present their agreement to Madigan for his approval.

Of course, Madigan is used to dictating his budget wishes to others, so there's no guarantee he'd even entertain a bipartisan budget plan passed by the Senate. But his effort to do that in each of the last two years fell flat, so maybe the Democratic powerhouse is ready to learn from his mistakes, if, in fact, he considers his high-handed manner of the past two budget years to be a mistake.

The budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and its related business is, of course, immensely complicated. That's why politicians in both party have tried to simplify the issue for the public.

But that has resulted in too much simplification because it's been suggested that all this state's ills would be cured if the General Assembly passed and Gov. Rauner signed a budget.

That's simply not the case, and no one should equate the passage of a budget with solving the problem.

It depends on what's in the budget.

Illinois has for years passed budgets, phony, gimmicky, dishonest documents that hid staggering problems and kicked the can down the road. It's because of those budgets — year after year of deficit spending — that Illinois is in dire financial straits, effectively bankrupt and even in worse shape than the American territory — Puerto Rico — that just filed for bankruptcy.

People can disagree about the action that should be taken. The Civic Federation recommends tax increases, spending cuts and even borrowing money at a lower interest rate to pay the state's unpaid bills that carry a higher interest.

Gov. Rauner has asked for a property tax freeze to go with the higher state income tax demanded by Speaker Madigan. Rauner also has requested business reforms that will encourage economic growth, while Democrats demand more social welfare spending.

Surely in all of that, there's common ground that must be found, if only to put a permanent spending plan in place and get state revenue flowing to entities — public education and social welfare agencies — that rely on it.

Defenders of maintaining the failed status quo have argued that by refusing to compromise, they're defending ordinary people. That's just not true. Think of the ordinary people — students, the elderly, abuse victims — who are doing without because of the budget logjam. They're being sacrificed not for the common good, but for a perceived political advantage in the 2018 gubernatorial race.

Well, both sides have made their point about 2018. It's time to think about the immediate future.

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