Editorial: Efforts at budget compromise missing at Statehouse


Anthony Souffle | Chicago Tribune

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, Ill., on August 17, 2016. (Anthony Souffle | Chicago Tribune | TNS)

Isn’t it nice that senators and representatives came together earlier this month to welcome the Chicago Cubs’ World Series trophy when it appeared at the Statehouse?

They filed into the House to laud the Cubbies, smiling as they took pictures with the trophy and Cubs great Ryne Sandberg. One would have hoped that seeing a tangible achievement of what can happen when a group of people actually work together to accomplish a goal might have been an inspiration to get their own act together.

But this is the Illinois Statehouse, so we know better.


It’s not surprising then that what needed to make an appearance — but didn’t — was any visible effort to keep the Senate’s “grand bargain” budget proposal on a path toward passage.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, who had been working for months on a bipartisan compromise to end the budget impasse now in its 21st month, started calling the 12 interlocking bills for a vote Feb. 28. Five passed, but that effort faltered the next day when Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office said more work was “needed to achieve a good deal for taxpayers.”

All Republicans but Radogno indicated they would not vote for the remaining seven bills. If Republicans wanted changes, earlier this month was the time to discuss them, reach a compromise and get those measures approved and over to the House, where an equally challenging battle to get the deal approved awaits.

So what are they waiting for?

If they need motivation, it’s not like the week wasn’t filled with fresh, even worse news about the state of Illinois’ finances. The State’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report found that the state wrapped up the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, with a General Fund deficit of $9.6 billion. That was up $2.7 billion from fiscal year 2015.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability showed that next year’s revenues are coming in at $329 million less than the governor’s forecast of $32.7 billion. That means Rauner’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 now has about a $4.9 billion shortfall.

Moody’s jumped in with a report that said the impasse continues to hurt Illinois’ public universities’ and community colleges’ credit, and predicted more cuts there. Governors State already announced it’s going to hike tuition 15 percent and cut 22 programs.


Apparently, that was not enough to get lawmakers running toward a compromise.

Can someone please make some “missing” posters for the elusive effort and political courage it’s going to take to make that happen? Maybe elected officials will catch a glimpse of them in between their acts of political theater.

Rauner and Comptroller Susana Mendoza went back and forth about which fund should be used to pay about 600 CMS workers; the matter is now in court, wasting time, energy and money on something that reasonable adults should have and could have settled with a phone call.

Rauner accused House Speaker Michael Madigan of coordinating with Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Mendoza to shut down government. Rauner has demanded more cuts in the “grand bargain” but his own department heads were unable or unwilling during committee hearings to articulate where their budgets could be trimmed.

And the fight over a $215 million payment to Chicago Public Schools was renewed after Rauner met with Chance the Rapper, an unexpected but surprisingly effective player in the budgetary games. The 23-year-old succinctly summed up the process with his tweet of “This whole (expletive) thing is embarrassing, to be honest.”

Not embarrassing enough yet, apparently, for state officials. Cullerton and Radogno did the heavy lifting with creating the framework and first drafts of the “grand bargain.”

Senate Democrats were ready to take the tough votes. The rest of the players need to meet them the last few yards. We’re past the days when Rauner wasn’t involved in these negotiations.

If the governor wants changes, he should be meeting with Cullerton and Radogno to get a deal done. How horrendous do these numbers have to get before lawmakers get serious about taking action?

The house is on fire, and lawmakers are arguing over who struck the first match instead of reaching for a hose to put out the flames. Whoever winds up declaring themselves the political winner in this battle is going to be presiding over the ashes of a state burned to the ground as they squabbled.


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