Another Opportunity Lost

Hope_Despair_Photo.jpgIllinois is an incredible state, filled with creative and competent people. We’re the nation’s transportation hub and its breadbasket. We are home to some of the most successful businesses in the world, and we are the high tech and financial hub for the Midwest.

But our state political culture is corrupt and toxic. Everyone is out to “get theirs.” Behaviors that are common in our state politics would never be tolerated in our homes, workplaces, or communities.

Our state’s constitution requires the General Assembly to enact a balanced budget. Yet we’re almost to the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year, which concludes this June 30, without a budget. And we’re now at the precipice of entering fiscal year 2016-17, still without a budget.

At the end of our regular session on May 31, Speaker Mike Madigan promised to bring us back to Springfield for overtime session every Wednesday, but he has since cancelled each of the past three weeks of that scheduled overtime session. He and Senate President John Cullerton have also said they won’t take any tough votes before the November elections.

If this were a business, the leadership would have been fired. If this were a household, the child who refused to do his chores (until November!) would face swift consequences.

I’ve met with Governor Bruce Rauner several times over the past month, and he’s rightly frustrated with the leadership of the General Assembly. He’s urged that, if Madigan and Cullerton won’t pass a full balanced budget, they should at least do two things: 1) ensure that our local schools open in the Fall and 2) ensure an emergency level of funding for vital state services. I strongly support this view. There are also moneys from the federal government and from dedicated funds that can be appropriated without adding to our state’s stack of unpaid bills.

Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, the situation is a mess. We’ve got deep systemic problems in the Chicago Public Schools, an underfunded state pension system, and we’re spending more than we’re taking in. The way things have “always been done” isn’t working any more.

You are probably asking right now, “What’s the solution?” Ideally, Republicans and Democrats would come together and craft a solution that works for the people of Illinois. But right now, the chasm is too deep. The Republicans have introduced significant reforms to improve the economy and to clean up state government, but those bills have been blocked. The Democrats want to raise taxes and increase spending on various government programs, including substantial new moneys to the City of Chicago and its schools. Such drastically different visions for state government make it difficult to have a meeting of the minds.

I’ve suggested that, if the two sides can’t get to a negotiated solution, we owe it to the people of Illinois to clearly frame their choice in the next election. In these next few election cycles, Illinoisans are facing choices that may prove to be as momentous as the recent vote by the people of Great Britain to leave the European Union. Our state government is at a crossroads, and the difference between the competing visions of those who want the status quo versus those who want reform couldn’t be more stark.

But as we gear up for the great electoral debate to come, we need to get the schools open in the Fall and the emergency funding in place for vital government services.