It was like a scene out of a science fiction movie: folks are talking on screen, everything’s normal, when all of the sudden, half the people go blank, as if someone flipped a switch and took control of their minds. Their eyes glaze over, they move in unison, as if they were a group of robots.
That was the beginning of the budget games in the Illinois House.
It had been a typical day of work on the floor. Then, out walked House Speaker Mike Madigan—a rare occurrence—and he announced we would be considering the first of a list of 16 separate budget amendments. We’d be immediately debating and voting on billions of dollars in spending, with no warning, no committee hearings, and none of the usual process.
And, all this spending was to be voted on before we learned how much money would be available for next year’s budget. Yes, you read that right, billions of dollars would go out the door, without an idea of how we would pay for any of it.
The members of the majority caucus did not raise a single objection. Instead, they voted with Speaker Madigan on every single one of the amendments. That’s every Democrat in the House voting with Speaker Madigan, on every spending measure he offered.
I don’t like to get partisan in this column, because I’ve gotten to know many members of the majority caucus in the House. Most are good, decent, intelligent people. That’s what made this “robot moment” so shocking: it was out of character from their conduct during first four months of this House Session.
If you want Exhibit A of why Illinois is in such a mess, it was on display last week. You saw one man running our state with an iron fist. A man with so much power that he can do the equivalent of flicking a switch, and every member of the majority acts in unison, without thought. Otherwise rational representatives will abandon their senses. They’ll spend billions of your tax dollars, without care for how much is available or where the money will come from. All at his command.
Now, some believe that Speaker Madigan planned on using the votes to create campaign mailers for the 2016 elections, to accuse members on our side of the aisle of voting “no” on funding for all sorts of worthy causes.
Instead, everyone on our side voted “present,” for three main reasons: 1) because it’s bad government to vote on items that you haven’t had time to read and consider, 2) because folks on our side aren’t against funding these budget lines, but without an idea of how much money is available, we’ve got no basis to set the level where a particular program should be funded, and 3) because we want to send a unified, clear message to Speaker Madigan and the established political order that the people of Illinois are tired of their shenanigans.
Our over-$32 billion budget is being examined by numerous committees and working groups to hash out all of its various details. That process is careful, thoughtful, and deliberative. It involves both Democrats and Republicans. These meetings and negotiations are our best hope to put together a balanced budget that protects our core priorities: caring for those least able to care for themselves, providing a world-class education for our kids, and bringing jobs and economic growth back to Illinois. That process is good government.
The more that we can pull back the curtain on the bad practices, the sooner we’ll be rid of them. We have too many critical issues to address—from funding our pension payments to putting a lid on our property taxes—to play these political games.