Budget is our first job as politicians


The news reports from the state capital are confusing and complicated. It’s pretty clear that there’s an impasse between the legislature and Gov. Bruce Rauner, between Democrats and Republicans. The impasse means that there is no budget in place for the next state budget year.

The first and foremost responsibility of the General Assembly and the Governor — a responsibility we face every year — is to fund state government. We have to approve funding for providers of medical and community mental health services. We have to pay state employees, from prison guards to the caseworkers for abused and neglected children.

The state’s fiscal year begins July 1. Every year the comptroller’s office — the state office that cuts state checks — loses the authority to write those checks at midnight on June 30.

The reasons for the impasse leave many of us scratching our heads. The disputes in Springfield are less about spending than they are about a variety of other issues. The new governor wants, among many other things, to cut compensation for people who are injured on the job. He wants to freeze property tax levies. He wants to curb public sector collective bargaining and reduce wage rates on public works projects.

The General Assembly approved a budget for all of state government before our scheduled adjournment at the end of May. The budget calls for an overall 2.25 percent cut. We know we can’t fund government without reducing spending. But even with the reduction in spending, the budget we adopted has a shortfall in the neighborhood of $3 billion — not much more than the shortfall in the budget the governor himself proposed. We believe we can’t just cut our way out of our fiscal problems. We believe that, in addition to cuts, we need new sources of revenue.

The Civic Federation agrees with us. It isn’t clear whether the governor does. What is clear is that he is prepared to hold hostage state spending until his non-budgetary wish list is approved by the legislature.

In my view, his wish list is on the wrong track. Collective bargaining is the bedrock of the state’s middle class. Workers hurt on the job in Illinois aren’t left out in the cold, as are workers in many other states. Limiting property taxes would be a great idea — if this state ever got around to adequate and equitable funding for public schools. Without additional state dollars, we have nowhere to go but to the property tax to pay for education.

I’m more than willing to talk to the new governor about all his ideas. In the meantime, I hope he’ll help me fund state government.