Daily Egyptian

Editorial: Rauner to Madigan: Hello? Can you hear me?

Michael+Madigan+and+Bruce+Rauner.+%28TNS%29
Michael Madigan and Bruce Rauner. (TNS)

Michael Madigan and Bruce Rauner. (TNS)

Michael Madigan and Bruce Rauner. (TNS)

By Chicago Tribune

“Democrats in the legislature, both the House and the Senate, will offer a spending plan that’s consistent with our view of what the state of Illinois should do for Illinoisans who need the government to be helpful to them. We will publicly acknowledge that we don’t have the money to pay for this budget.”

— Michael Madigan, May 25, 2015

Last year, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the state budget Democrats sent him. House Speaker Michael Madigan admitted it was nearly $3 billion out of balance and would likely require a tax increase. It was actually closer to $4 billion out of whack.

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This was after the Democrat-controlled legislature, along with a newly elected Rauner, spent the first half of the year scrounging up enough money for the budget the Democrats had passed in 2014 — also way out of balance.

Since Rauner vetoed the 2015 budget, the state has been clicking along without an official spending plan.

“Clicking” might be an overstatement. While state workers and politicians are still getting paid, along with agencies and service providers covered under court mandates, hundreds of vendors including charities, health care providers and small business owners are closing their doors or waiting in a very long line to get paid.

The Illinois auditor general recently updated the numbers. We know your eyes glaze over at government debt numbers in this state, but consider: The state’s deficit increased by $4.1 billion between July 1, 2014, and July 1, 2015. Including pension obligations, hitting the total button puts the debt at $125 billion.

Throw higher education onto the IOU pile. Illinois colleges and universities have not received state funding during the nearly yearlong budget impasse, and several college presidents have sent up flares indicating they can’t keep their doors open much longer.

After taking most of March off (the politicians needed a nice break before and after that contentious primary election), they are back in Springfield this week.

Place your bets on how much time they’ll spend fixing the budget impasse. If you set your roulette chip on double zero, you’ll probably be a winner.

Rauner and top Democratic and Republican leaders haven’t met for months. Democrats, who hold supermajorities in both chambers, seem content to busy themselves on nonessential legislation rather than work on a solution or demand that their leaders head to the negotiating table in good faith.

The standoff between Rauner and Madigan has deteriorated into a childish squabble. Rauner says publicly he’s willing to meet with Madigan anytime. Madigan’s spokesman pretends not to hear the invitation. Hello? Can you hear me? Inspiration for a new Adele song.

Perhaps one of the supposed adults running this state could knock on the door of the other. We have learned during the budget impasse that Madigan doesn’t use a cellphone or email, and apparently pigeons no longer deliver messages.

Republican lawmakers have been sticking with Rauner as he tries to break Springfield’s steel-girded status quo. Rauner says he won’t approve a tax increase unless he gets some reforms. Those reforms include reducing workers’ compensation costs, reining in liability lawsuits, giving local governments more control over collective bargaining rules, and putting term limits and redistricting reform on the ballot. But even GOP members are growing increasingly frustrated.

The next budget year begins July 1. Lawmakers already are trying to add to the state’s expenses. Less than two months ago, Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation to raise the pay of unionized home health care workers and to expand child care services — proposals worth debating.

Yet those ideas would require more than $600 million in additional revenue, according to Rauner’s office, and there’s no movement among lawmakers to actually come up with the money. We repeat: There’s no money.

The spend-first-and-figure-it-out-later (or never) approach is the path the majority party is taking yet again.

Those legislators will find the money for their own paychecks, of course, but the broader plan to save the state continues to be … no plan.

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(c)2016 the Chicago Tribune

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