Illinois should have had a 2016 state budget 298 days ago, and despite a recent glimmer of hope it would be a safe bet that this will just be the year without a budget.
Too bad Illinois leaders could only freeze time and not stop digging the deficit hole, expected to reach $11 billion by July 1.
Belatedly, Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger discovered that the same authority allowing her to decide which social service agency should get what meager state money is available gives her the power to decide when to pay state leaders. Salaries for lawmakers and constitutional officers, including herself, are going to the back of the $7.7 billion bill backlog.
Too bad she didn’t make the move on July 2. Maybe a little paycheck pain would have motivated our state leaders to at least talk about a budget. One wonders whether that pointy fiscal stick prodded them into action on the $600 million emergency spending bill for state colleges, which gives needy students the MAP grants they were promised.
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Initially the budget impasse seemed to be a game of chicken: Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Gov. Bruce Rauner hurtling toward a collision from which one would swerve. That’s not the right scenario because neither is rushing anywhere near the other, much less towards a meeting point.
Instead we find the two sides laying siege and lobbing the occasional salvo at the other’s fortress. The problem is that the ones dying from starvation are those on the fringes of society who most need services and other non-combatants such as the fishermen wanting to go to Horseshoe Lake State Park. The park closes Monday because our deadbeat state failed to pay $4,334 in trash and power bills.
Local government is awaiting billions in overdue state payments, and now we learn the state wants them to repay $168 million mistakenly overpaid by the Illinois Department of Revenue. Maybe they could just keep the change from the late payments?
Rauner and Madigan must embrace the most basic political skill. They must identify the simple things on which they can agree, such as funding colleges, and thus create a foundation for the big items on which they must compromise.
The next question is whether Illinois will have a 2017 budget, or whether Illinois voters in November decide they have had enough reckless waste of their taxes and storm the statehouse walls.