On the last day of June, the final day of our state’s fiscal year, a deal was cut to fund K-12 education for the next school year and to fund critical state services until after the Fall elections. But a month before, when Speaker Michael Madigan sent the General Assembly home on May 31, our two sides couldn’t have been farther apart.
Compared to the bedlam of the end of regular session in May, the General Assembly was positively subdued on June 30. Those last few days of May featured the supermajority ramming through a budget that would have spent roughly $40 billion, even though the state is only expected to take in $33 billion in taxes. On top of the $7 billion hole that budget would have ripped in our backlog of unpaid bills, Speaker Madigan only allowed members one hour to read that 500-page measure before debating and voting on it.
And in those final days of May, Democratic leaders said that any tough votes on budget and reform would be put off until after the November elections. In response, on May 31, Gov. Rauner urged the General Assembly to pass a stopgap funding measure to keep the state operating through the November elections and to pass a K-12 school funding measure to ensure that schools would open on time in the Fall. His proposal was summarily rejected.
Why the change? Well, you and other citizens of Illinois got mad, and got active.
After massive public uproar, House and Senate members forced their legislative leaders back to the negotiating table to reach an agreement. The compromise is not perfect—nowhere near it—nor is it a full budget. There are significant spending reductions, including a freeze on lawmaker pay, but the economic and governmental reforms we need to turn Illinois around were put off, until after the election. There was some movement on pension reform, but again, the leaders of the supermajority in the legislature have pushed back any detail work to November.
I’ve read a lot of hyperbole since the deal was enacted, including much criticism. Those critics are correct that the General Assembly should have stayed until its work was done: to enact a full balanced budget and substantial reforms, to turn around our economy and fix our government.
But despite this being a partial measure, it is progress. First, “We the People” were heard by the members of the General Assembly, and the majority party in the legislature finally allowed a compromise measure to be voted on by all the members. Second, kids will be able to attend school in the Fall, and critical state services will be maintained. Third and finally, for the first time in a while, this November’s elections in Illinois may be about real policy and issues, not personalities.
It looks like we’re finally going to have a robust, substantive debate on where the state should go—and how best to get there. The only thing holding Illinois back from the kind of economic success being experienced by our neighbor states in the Midwest is our broken state government. May the best plan win!