Editor’s note: This editorial by the Springfield State Journal-Register is being published today in newspapers across Illinois.
Illinois’ budget standoff must be resolved, and must be resolved now. Whether or not our leaders manage to pass a stopgap funding measure this week, Illinois still needs the stability of a full budget to restore the health of our state and its economy.
For a year, our state’s elected leaders have engaged in what can only be called political malpractice.
Illinois is the only state in the country that doesn’t have a budget. For a year, because of that failure, it has stiffed small businesses, social service agencies and its higher education system, leaving them trying to operate without money they’re owed. State operations have been cobbled together through a patchwork of court orders, and the state gets deeper in debt by the minute.
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Gov. Bruce Rauner said on Monday the state was on the verge of crisis, and that it would be an “outrageous, tragic failure” if schools don’t open on time this fall.
With all due respect, governor, the state is already in crisis and the budget standoff has already been an “outrageous, tragic failure.” A stopgap may delay imminent emergency and we desperately need that. But it’s still not enough.
As legislators return to Springfield today — for the first time this month — Illinois’ historic, serious problems have been made even worse by the failure to compromise on a balanced, long-term spending plan.
The political war between Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan has been confounding and unconscionable. Rauner has insisted on passage of the so-called Turnaround Agenda, a series of pro-business measures, as a condition of the budget. Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have seemed focused primarily on thwarting the governor.
Neither the governor nor the legislature has put forth a balanced budget. Decades of delaying action and willfully ignoring issues like the state’s epically ballooning pension obligations have devastated its financial stability. The state must make cuts, and yes, more revenue will be needed to stanch the economic bleeding.
The consequences of having no budget have been harsh and far-reaching.
The state’s colleges and universities, which ought to be linchpins for growth and economic development, instead have been starved. Hundreds have been laid off, programs have been shuttered. High school graduates look at this mess, fear for their future, and enroll in out-of-state colleges. Our best and brightest may not come back after they complete their education elsewhere.
Meanwhile, more than 130,000 low-income students have had financial aid snatched away. Do these students who wish to better themselves and their future job prospects through education have other resources to continue? In most cases, no.
One million of Illinois’ most vulnerable people — the poor, the at-risk kids, the elderly, the mentally ill, the homeless, the victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault — have been directly harmed by the state’s dereliction of duty, as social service agencies cut services.
Hospitals and medical providers are owed hundreds of millions in unpaid state employee medical bills and delayed Medicaid payments.
Countless business owners, large and small, have struggled to survive because they haven’t been paid. Cities and small towns have been left holding the bag for unpaid state bills.
And yet, it could get even worse.
More than $2 billion in active road construction projects might be shut down, leading to as many as 25,000 workers losing their jobs.
The state’s corrections system says it’s on the verge of not being able to feed inmates and operate prisons.
Social services agencies will continue to turn away the ill, the homeless, the elderly.
The state’s schools were spared last year by a separate appropriation. But this year, many districts face the very real possibility of not opening or not being able to stay open.
But what have citizens seen from the Capitol? We have seen political posturing. We have seen a governor who campaigned as a practical business leader dedicated to finding fixes instead act as an ideological purist. We have seen elected representatives apparently unable to stand up to Madigan, Cullerton and Rauner to demand a resolution to the crisis. We have not seen compromise.
Perhaps the most damaging long-term effect is the toxic cynicism and frustration this crisis has created among its residents, who have to wonder at this point if Rauner, Madigan and Cullerton simply view the toll on Illinois’ people as mere collateral damage. At a recent Better Government Association panel on the impasse’s impact, multiple social service providers said flatly they don’t believe leaders care about their plight.
Many long-term changes are needed to restore Illinois to solid ground. Redistricting reform is a critical piece of restoring true political competitiveness that will lead to legislators facing more accountability to the voters they represent.
But the day has come. Illinois’ people cannot be held hostage for a second year without a budget.
Voters must revolt and demand better.