Note to state legislators: “You are required by the state constitution to pass a balanced budget.”
Response: “Make us.”
Note to state Supreme Court: “Please affirm the obligation of state legislators to pass balanced budgets.”
Response: “Gee, do we have to?”
Maybe that’s an oversimplification of current conditions in Illinois, or maybe it’s not, but it does sum up the situation pretty well.
Our lawmakers are ignoring the state constitution, our judges are refusing to call them on it, and nobody seems to know what to do about it.
In the meantime, the undercapitalized obligations keep piling up, the debt grows higher, taxes keep rising, our most productive citizens and businesses keep exiling themselves, and the problem just gets worse.
“The wording in the Illinois Constitution seems clear,” Hilary Gowins observed in a 2016 post at illinoispolicy.org. “But for more than a decade, Illinois lawmakers have used borrowing and budget gimmicks to pass unbalanced budgets.”
How do they get away with it? “Simple,” Gowins explained. “Illinois’ constitutional requirement for a balanced budget allows lawmakers to push off any budget shortfall into the future.”
Mark Glennon of Wirepoints reports that the Illinois Supreme Court recently dismissed a case regarding “a particular aspect of Illinois’ constitutional balanced budget requirement” and that the manner in which it did so “was exceptionally irresponsible, imperious, and cowardly.”
How so? The Court said that it couldn’t rule on the question because it was “political.”
There are questions that are genuinely political and are best left to legislators, and questions that judges should not be legislating from the bench. But what happens when the checks and balances break down and the three branches of government get together and seem to be conspiring against the people?
This is where we are now, and it’s not a good place.