As procrastinating teens will put off a big homework assignment, this summer Illinois’ leaders found a way to put off addressing our state’s budget problems until after the election.
The election is behind us now, and a stopgap spending plan that was approved in July will expire less than seven weeks from now.
While the stopgap budget bought legislators some time, it solved nothing. Illinois now has more than $9 billion in unpaid bills.
Lawmakers are set to return Tuesday to Springfield, and there are cold realities to face: Pension payments are consuming an ever-larger share of state revenues each year, and the system must be changed in a manner consistent with the state constitution. Plans to offer employees a choice in benefits might be the best way to go, although Rauner and Democrats already failed to reach an agreement on this once already.
Democrats seem eager to impose another income tax increase on residents, but there should be no tax increases. Illinois residents already are overtaxed.
What's needed instead are spending cuts and reforms such as those that Gov. Bruce Rauner pledged to implement at the time of his election – including reforms to worker’s compensation, limits on collective bargaining and term limits for legislators. These ideas were put forward during the campaign, Rauner was elected by the voters of our state, and yet House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have flouted the will of the people in refusing to negotiate them.
Madigan justifies this refusal to work with the governor by claiming he is defending the middle class – but our state has not had a budget since July 2015, and everyone, from the wealthiest residents to the poorest, has been hurt as a result.
Perhaps that’s one reason why Republicans gained seats in the recent elections. New legislators will not take office until January. But even with the lame ducks still in office, it seems unlikely that Democrats will be able to push another tax increase on the people of our state without any changes to the way things operate.
State Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, told the Chicago Tribune that the Republicans’ meager gains in this election would do nothing to break the stalemate between Madigan and Rauner, and speculated it was possible there might be no budget for all four years of Rauner’s term.
We’ve already seen the damage that almost 18 months without a budget has done. It would be unconscionable for legislators and the governor to allow this situation to continue.
This impasse needs to end. Changes must be made, and all options should be on the table.