Gov. Bruce Rauner gave the General Assembly, and particularly Democratic leaders, a clear ultimatum during his budget speech last week.
The governor said, during a speech that was less about budget numbers and more about how to break the state’s political deadlock, that legislators had one of two choices.
They could either work with him on economic and government reforms or give the governor authority to cut spending.
If history is any indication, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, will pick a third door, which is do nothing.
That seems to be the course the state has set. The House and Senate are scheduled to meet only a handful of times before the March 15 primary.
The state’s political leaders, who met three times in December in an attempt to solve this impasse, apparently haven’t met since then.
Meanwhile, the budget impasse is doing irreparable harm to the state. Those who depend on social services funded by the state are suffering. College students who depend on grants and scholarships to pay for their education are forced to consider other options. Business in general is suffering as residents flee the state, state contractors make do without payments and commerce moves more slowly because no one is sure what the future holds.
There are those that have criticized Rauner’s “my way or the highway” approach, but what alternative does he have? The Democrats sent him a budget last spring that was $4 billion out of balance. They didn’t have the votes, or the political will, to approve tax increases to cover that deficit.
Of course, as soon as Rauner finished speaking, Madigan began criticizing. He said that lawmakers would not bend on Rauner’s attempt to limit collective bargaining. But how about Rauner’s proposals to change the way the state draws its political maps, workers compensation and term limits? Is there a compromise on those issues that could lead to a budget solution? We may never know because those issues are seen as a threat to Madigan’s power and to trial lawyers. Cullerton said Rauner's proposal wasn't legitimate because it didn't include enough detail.
If Madigan and Cullerton won’t work with the governor on a new spending plan, they should let the governor make the hard choices on the budget. Let his office decide where to cut, and where to spend, to put the state on a firmer financial footing. Remove the “auto-spending,” that will have the state end this year $5 billion in the red. Rauner has said he would put everything on the table, except for early childhood education and general state aid to schools.
The budget impasse has dragged on for eight months, with no end in sight. Madigan and Cullerton need to make a choice. Doing nothing is harming the state.