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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Do the Democrats in Springfield really need a bargain?

Their View

By Diana Rickert, Illinois Policy Institute | Apr 20, 2017

For almost two years, we’ve heard a litany of excuses for why Illinois does not have a state budget.

Rauner is holding the budget hostage for his extreme agenda!

Bipartisan gridlock!

The governor got in the way!

Democrats in particular say they’re waiting for the governor and other Republicans to step up to the plate. But here’s the thing: If Democrats really want a state budget, they can pass one.

This whole narrative about needing bipartisan agreement to "end the impasse"… it’s all a sham.

The great irony of the budget “grand bargain” is that Illinois has never needed a bargain to begin with. One party controls the General Assembly.

So if we’re going to discuss why there is not a state budget and point fingers, let’s at least be honest. Bargaining is what happens when one party needs something from another, and when neither can act in isolation. That’s not the situation in Illinois.

During most of Illinois’ faux "budget impasse," Democrats could have single-handedly passed and implemented whatever state spending plan they wanted.

In July 2015, when Illinois became the Land-of-No-Budget, Democrats had supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.

This means that if they passed a budget and Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it, Democrats could have implemented it anyway by overriding his decision.

They sent a budget Rauner’s way in 2015, and the governor nixed most of it because it spent billions of dollars more than the state would collect in revenue. But after the veto, the Democrats didn’t do anything.

Well, I should rephrase: They didn’t do anything to advance their vision for how the state should spend money.

Instead, they threatened a government shutdown and tweeted to express their #outrage.

Meanwhile, the state’s backlog of bills soared. The state continued spending money because of court orders and continuing appropriations — and not just the money it took in; it spent billions and billions of dollars more. The Illinois comptroller estimates that even without an official state budget, 90 percent of state spending is happening anyway.

Today, Democrats remain in the supermajority in the Illinois Senate. House Democrats lost their supermajority back in January, but don’t think Speaker Michael Madigan‘s caucus isn’t still powerful; House Democrats are only four votes shy of being able to override a governor’s veto.

So all of this raises the question: If the Democrats have so much power in the statehouse, why do they act so helpless?

Easy. They don’t believe enough in their own ideas to actually put their names on them. And they absolutely do not want to be held accountable for the consequences.

In seeking Republicans’ support, they’re not trying to share credit for the good — they’re spreading blame for the bad.

The lynchpin of the recent “grand bargain” budget proposal was a massive tax increase. It paid lip service to popular ideas such as a property tax freeze and pension reform. But at its core, this plan would take billions of dollars from taxpayers to prop up the same old broken state government we have today.

The "negotiations" over this budget package were not about how much money the state can save taxpayers.

The talks were about protecting politicians from tough votes. Which and how many Republicans would shield Democrats, and vice versa.

The Democrats refuse to own another income tax increase. And they’re too beholden to special interests and the dysfunctional system we call state government to make actual, dramatic changes for the better.

So when you see the irate tweets by Illinois Democrats blaming Rauner, for the lack of budget, understand what they’re really mad about.

They’re really upset that their party lost its cover.

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Organizations in this Story

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan Illinois Policy Institute

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