Just a few years ago – in the good ol' days – the governor of Illinois would meet with the four legislative leaders (the top Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and the top Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate) and devise a state budget that would be voted on a few days later by all legislators. Then everyone would go home for the summer.
Those weren't really the good old days, because that kind of arrangement stifled open discussion of the budget, limited access to important information about state spending and inevitably led to budget tricks, like the "member initiatives" that gave lawmakers pork-barrel goodies to bring home to their districts in exchange for a "yes" vote on the budget.
But it turns out that those days when the governor and the so-called "Four Tops" negotiated the budget were pure democracy compared with what's going on in Springfield today.
This year, the state's $45 billion-plus budget is being drawn up by the governor and two other men, the Senate president and the House speaker – all three Chicago Democrats. Republicans in the House and Senate, who account for 80 of the Legislature's 177 members and represent much of the Chicago suburbs and downstate Illinois, have not been invited to the budget meetings. They have been shut out of discussions about the state budget and will have no input other than to vote yes or no when it comes up for a vote.
Interestingly, Republican leaders were invited to another meeting Thursday regarding the governor's capital development program. In order to pass that program, which requires an extraordinary vote of the Legislature, Gov. Rod Blagojevich will need Republican votes. The governor's strategy is just too transparent: We're happy to work with you when it's in our best interests. Otherwise, go away.
If Illinois is to have bipartisan, cooperative government, it's up to the voters to demand it on Nov. 7.