By Shane Nicholson
A silent and familiar scourge is creeping into Springfield again. With state legislators busy concerning themselves about campaign dollars and elections, ratings agencies sit with bated breath waiting for any sign of movement as Illinois moves closer to yet another budget impasse.
A last-minute stopgap spending plan was put in place over the summer, allowing Illinois to avoid starting its second straight fiscal year without a budget. The state is stumbling along, nursing an $8 billion-plus backlog of payments while the governor and General Assembly do their best not to make eyes at one another. This will not do.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner ran as the apocryphal “change” candidate just two years ago. He was an alleged shift away from the cronyism of past chief executives; a man who could get the state back on track because he knows business better than anyone in Illinois’ broken government. Sounds like a familiar refrain, doesn’t it?
So far, Rauner has provided much the same, though with an extreme rightward slant. By any measure, he’s spent more time in office campaigning than he has governing. He’s held the financial status of the state in the balance over the consideration of his own non-budgetary reform measures. He hires his friends and his wife’s friends from the private industry for well-paid public service positions. He funnels money into elections to see his preferred choices succeed. Apparently, cronyism is acceptable, so long as the cronies are your pals; not Mike Madigan’s.
Meanwhile, the legislature remains in deadlock. Democrats in the House are near a veto-proof supermajority, enough to terrify the governor into pumping nearly $20 million of his own into state elections this cycle. Republicans have been left to clean up after a spat of unfortunate defeats in the primaries and the sudden resignation of state Rep. Ron Sandack, distracting themselves with a set of noisy reform measures. But no one can find it within them to sit down and bang out a budget so far.
We were told when the temporary spending plan passed in the summer that negotiations would continue with an eye to wrapping up the details once the November elections had passed. So far, nearly all work on the budget for the final six months of the fiscal year remains undone, and the utterances from Springfield give little hope of movement before or even after Nov. 8.
“I hope I’m wrong and that there is an effort to come together and get a budget, but I have not talked to too many people who actually believe that,” Democratic state Rep. Elaine Nekritz said last week.
“We can’t keep doing stopgaps,” Republican state Rep. Steve Andersson added. “We can’t keep operating without a budget and just with consent decrees.”
And yet, nothing is being done to avert yet another embarrassment for the state, and another hit to our credit rating. Every day that ticks by brings the likelihood of a downgrade to our borrowing status closer and closer.
The Republicans in the Assembly have spent the majority of their time since the stopgap plan was passed campaigning for term limits and redistricting reform, both “reforms” aimed directly at Madigan, both goals of the GOP only in states where it suits them. Outside Illinois’ borders, they’ve redrawn state legislature and Congressional maps that would need an act of God to see their Republican friends lose a seat.
But you don’t need term limits or redistricting to vote out representatives who have let down the state, and who continue to use the sustainability of the state’s economy as a political football. All you need are proactive challengers willing to go to Springfield and try to get something done. And guess what? If they let you down, you can vote them out next time, too!
The system isn’t setup to keep representatives in Springfield (or Washington, or the city council…) indefinitely; that only happens if we allow it to – if we allow the millions and millions of dollars meant to influence our votes to have their way.
Right now, neither side in Springfield is doing their job to secure the financial future of this state, allowing the regular business of its schools and social services and road crews – all those essential functions of our government – to continue.
There are two challengers to local legislators’ seats this November, and they’re both being outspent 10-to-1 to preserve the status quo. I’m not going so far as to endorse them, but maybe (just maybe) if it’s a change you’re still looking for, you can start by looking at the legislature, and start by looking at the persons representing you in Springfield.
They’re the ones leaving the heavy lifting to be done at the last second yet again, and they’re the ones who continue to let Illinois down when the hard work of government comes calling.