By Scott Reeder -
SPRINGFIELD – My disgust with our state’s politicians – both Republicans and Democrats – reached a climax this past week as I watched lawmakers and the governor congratulate themselves for doing next to nothing.
They passed a six-month budget that spends too much and puts off the decision on raising taxes until after the November election.
Folks, when taxes are left in the hands of a bunch of lame ducks, expect to be goosed.
The temporary budget is the prelude to what will be one of the largest tax hikes in the state’s history.
Oh, the lawmakers aren’t saying it but the numbers in their budget tell the story: it spends more than the state takes in.
Of course this act of political cowardice is being repackaged by spin-masters as a “bipartisan compromise.”
The only thing being compromised is our state’s future.
A lot of people have suffered over the past year and one has to ask: For what?
For the first time in the state’s 198-year history, Illinois went an entire year without a budget.
The fiscal year ended June 30 with state government hanging together with a patchwork of court orders, an education bill, chewing gum and bailing wire.
A year ago, no one thought Gov. Bruce Rauner could keep state government running a full year without a budget, but he did it.
College kids didn’t receive financial aid, social service agencies struggled, state universities cut positions and just about anyone who did business with the state waited months to get paid.
But schools continued to operate, state workers continued to be paid, inmates continued to be locked up. And state workers continued to get their pensions.
Rauner and House Speaker Mike Madigan were at loggerheads.
Rauner said he would not support raising taxes unless the legislature first passed business and political reforms.
Madigan just wanted to raise taxes.
The Speaker’s minions passed a budget that spent billions more than the state had.
Rauner vetoed it.
And the two spent a year trading political punches.
Then Madigan raised the specter that maybe schools wouldn’t open this August. His daughter, the attorney general, pondered whether to go to court and keep state workers from being paid.
And folks in the administration wondered if there would be money to feed prison inmates.
The state was on the brink of moving from crisis to calamity.
Madigan smelled weakness and pounced.
Madigan extracted a pledge of $250 million more in local and state dollars to fund that mismanaged sump hole called Chicago Public Schools.
And Rauner got a face-saving fig leaf that Chicago wouldn’t get all of that money unless the legislature enacted pension reform — after the election.
If you believe we will see meaningful pension reform in 2016, you probably also believe in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus.
It needs to happen. But I don’t see it happening this year.
Illinoisans have suffered this past year. And we don’t have a single reform to show for it.
I keep looking for heroes in Springfield, but I just can’t find any.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area and can be reached at [email protected].