Illinois needs serious, long-term budget fix

By Rockford Register Star

That Mike Madigan. He’s such a jokester. He and the other Democrats in the Illinois House of Representatives should open their own comedy club. It would give Second City a run for its money.

Speaking of money, that budget Speaker of the House Madigan and his colleagues passed Thursday should have come with its own laugh track. Come on, a budget that spends $7.5 billion — that’s with a B — more than it takes in? It has to be a joke, right?

Madigan needs to bring the rest of us in on it. Illinois’ financial situation may be a joke, but it’s not funny.

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We get that Madigan doesn’t like Gov. Bruce Rauner’s turnaround agenda, but he should counter that with a serious proposal that balances revenue and spending. For what it’s worth, Madigan says he’s ready to negotiate with the governor to find the money to balance the budget. That would sound more credible if he had included a way to find the money in his budget bill.

Madigan’s budget bill now heads to the Senate, where Senate President John Cullerton can put an end to this sham.

If not, Rauner will be in an unenviable position of having to use a line-item veto or vetoing the entire budget.

Tim Nuding, director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, said in a conference call with reporters Friday that the governor doesn’t have the leeway to cut away as necessary because of legally mandated spending. The legislature needs to balance the budget.

A full veto would threaten the ability of some schools in the state to open this fall.

Democrats don’t have enough votes to override a Rauner veto because there are seven grown-ups in their ranks. Representatives Kelly Cassidy, Scott Drury, Ken Dunkin, Jack Franks, Stephanie Kifowit, Elaine Nekritz and Carol Sente voted against the budget bill. State Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, voted present.

“I haven’t voted for a budget in well over a decade because they haven’t been balanced and this one wasn’t even close,” Franks told Reboot Illinois, the website that addresses key issues in Illinois. “If we were a private company, we would be seized by the government. That’s how reckless we are.”

That recklessness hurts the people who most depend on money from the state. Programs that provide meals for the elderly, programs that help troubled youngsters and programs that help victims of domestic violence are struggling or closing down because of the lack of state money.

“Our schools don’t know if they will be able to open on time and our social service network is crumbling,” said State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford. “Instead of working with Republicans to finally end this tragic impasse, House Speaker Madigan has decided to offer another rubber check that will simply pull the rug out from under everyone depending on state funding.”

Even without a budget, the state is paying 90 percent of its obligations, largely because of court orders, consent decrees and continuing appropriations.

Lawmakers who have seen the state go almost a year without a budget should be looking toward long-term solutions. They’ve botched attempts at short-term fixes.

“When you’re in a hole, the best thing you can do is stop digging,” Comptroller Leslie Munger said in a statement. “For Illinois, that means members of both parties coming together in good faith to pass a budget that is truly balanced.”

If Madigan’s budget became law, Munger said, unpaid bills would surge past $15 billion, with payments delayed eight to nine months.

Two bipartisan working groups had been trying to put together a budget deal. Nuding said he thought that they were making progress and that there could be a deal by Tuesday when the legislative session is scheduled to end.

“I do believe we’re in striking distance of a potential deal if everyone is willing to deal,” he said.

Illinois has had enough tomfoolery. It’s had too many unbalanced budgets. It’s time to end the funny business and get a real, preferably multiyear, budget done.

(c)2016 Rockford Register Star, Ill.

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