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Doing nothing while Illinois falls apart

Updated: June 13, 2014 11:46AM

The spring session of the Illinois Legislature ended in failure to adopt a serious budget. This is no longer about kicking cans down the road. The can is now an empty tank car — too big to kick.

The Legislature’s failure invites renewed musing about why it failed — again.

One non-novel thought: Legislators want to hang onto their jobs; they don’t want to irritate any sizeable constituency or group (particularly if it has a PAC fund). Raising taxes or cutting programs would irritate somebody, and getting reelected means avoiding tough votes. Does that explain the continued failure?

Another thought (also not new): Several legislators aren’t running for re-election, but they’ll be able to vote in the veto session — after the election. It might be easier to “persuade” some of them to vote for an income tax extension then. But if they aren’t running, why do they care about not voting now? Making some interest group mad before the election would have no consequences for them anyway. Would a vote for a tax extension post-election be more “trade-worthy” — more deserving of a cushy state job?

Or could it be that taking legislators off the hook isn’t what this is all about?

House Speaker Mike Madigan, a Democrat, is one smart strategist. If Gov. Pat Quinn is re-elected, the Dems will “wear the jacket” for any unpopular tax hikes or budget cuts. But what if Republican Bruce Rauner is elected governor? He’s for bi-partisanship and solving problems. Maybe the Speaker and Gov. Rauner could work out a budget compromise. That way the Republicans would share the blame for the pain.

Also, the Speaker knows as well as anyone that allowing the unfunded pension cloud to keep mushrooming will be catastrophic. He’s been talking publicly about the need to get budget deficits and pensions under control at least since 2007. The Speaker knows that any resolution of this mess almost certainly will involve both cutting costs and generating more revenues. He has to be asking: Would it be easier to “do the right thing” with a meat-axe wielding Republican governor, or with a union-dependent Pat Quinn?

What does it say to the Speaker that Quinn suffered acute gastric disorder at the mere thought of allowing Chicago to raise its own property taxes to fund just two of its four pension plans? How much more distress would a re-elected Quinn experience when faced with pension funding for Chicago police and fire (next year) — or the Chicago public schools — or Cook County? How about the other municipalities and schools throughout the state?

Does anyone think the Speaker would look more favorably on Quinn’s alternative notion of giving bigger chunks of the state’s income tax stream to Chicago and other municipalities and school systems? By the way, how will the good burghers of Peoria feel about using their income tax dollars to keep Chicago’s property taxes from rising?

And where is Mayor Rahm Emanuel in all this? Sure, he tells the TV cameras he’s for the Democratic ticket; he’s for Pat Quinn. But the mayor is a former investment banker; he understands that investors won’t keep buying municipal bonds indefinitely, particularly when the unions argue their claims have priority over the bondholders.

Pat: You’re standing in the way of progress. Better get ready to be part of history.


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