Welcome to Day #526 without a full-year budget in the State of Illinois.
It is truly mind-blowing, isn’t it?
It is amazing to consider that the individuals that we have chosen to represent us in Springfield have not been able to put together a comprehensive spending plan to fund the fifth-largest state in the nation in over eighteen months. It is important to remember, however, that the process isn’t as simple as many would like to believe.
Fingers are being pointed from both sides of the political aisle at the other side. Democrats claim that Governor Bruce Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda” is inherently bad for everyone but the wealthiest citizens of Illinois and that his demands for reforms aren’t “budget issues”. Republicans, in turn, put the blame on House Speaker Michael Madigan and his ironclad grip on the floor of the House for over thirty years. It is the opinion of this writer that both sides are right… and both sides are wrong.
The finer details of each party’s arguments aside, the simple fact of the matter is that this is no longer a political game to be waged between two very intelligent, but entrenched, individuals. It never was a game, in the literal sense of the word, but it can be argued that there is a bit of a “game” to be played by both sides when it comes to the process of negotiating a budget, in a normal year.
However, as we approach Christmas and a heightened sense of uncertainty for tens of thousands of state workers and millions of run of the mill Illinois citizens who depend on their service each day, the urgency for Governor Rauner, Speaker Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, House Minority Leader Durkin, Senate Minority Leader Radogno, and Representative Greg Harris to spend every minute available to work out an agreement for the good of all Illinois residents.
Stuck in the middle of the mess, however, are 173 other elected officials who have been unfairly judged and criticized by their constituents… and unfairly meddled with by the Illinois Executive Branch. It is most certainly not a popular opinion, but these rank-and-file Representatives and Senators are wrongly being told to come to work on behalf of the citizens of Illinois without being paid for their time.
Former Comptroller Leslie Munger, a Republican, took a strong stand earlier this year to decide that legislator compensation would be put into the same ever-growing stack of bills to be paid by the State of Illinois. Newly-elected Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Democrat, has pledged to continue that policy, unless ordered differently by a court of law. While this writer can appreciate the message that both the former and now current Comptrollers were trying to send, it has reached the point of becoming unfair to 173 people who have little to do with the position in which Illinois currently finds itself.
The blame for the current budget impasse is not on the rank-and-file lawmaker. People such as C.D. Davidsmeyer, Sam McCann, Avery Bourne, Sara Wojcicki-Jimenez, and Tim Butler can go to work in Springfield and give speeches on the floor of their respective chambers until they’re blue in the face, but the truth is, they have no power in the process of making a budget until one is presented to them for a vote. Currently, those five individuals – and 168 other colleagues – are being paid six months or more behind schedule. They’ve done nothing to deserve that, when the blame for the lack of a full-year state budget firmly rests on the shoulders of Governor Rauner, Speaker Madigan, President Cullerton, Leaders Durkin and Radogno, and – as of late – Representative Harris. Until these five people are able to get their heads together and compromise on a bill for the rank-and-file to vote on, nothing can happen. That’s how it works, folks, and we’re aiming our hate and vitriol at the wrong targets, when we criticize people outside of these five individuals.
Now, in the midst of the ongoing fight in the budget sandbox, six Democratic lawmakers have filed suit against former Comptroller Munger and the State of Illinois in an attempt to force their paychecks to be given on time. This is not what residents of Illinois need or deserve right now. Now, on top of significant delays in social service payments, employee incentive compensation, travel reimbursement, aid to college students, and repairs to our infrastructure, Illinoisians will have to foot the bill to defend the state against a lawsuit that never should have been necessary in the first place.
Comptroller Mendoza, do the right thing for the lawmakers that have nothing to do with the budget process until a proposal is presented to them for a vote. Release legislator paychecks on time, just as you do for thousands of other State of Illinois employees. Don’t penalize the many over the actions of the (very) few.