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Radically Centered: Rauner Budget Begins New Tango in Springfield

Radically Centered: Rauner Budget Begins New Tango in Springfield 5.00/5 (100.00%) 1 vote

The Rauner Budget Proposal has him and Madigan doing something Springfield has not seen in years: negotiate.

by Justin Shimko

Something strange happened in Springfield last week.

Gov. Bruce Rauner (seen here at the Metropolitan Planning Council) opened up rare budget negotiations that call for striking billions from the state’s spending habits.

While masses of Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians and many other Christians going to the lunchroom and local parishes to receive their ashes to mark the start of Lent, Gov. Bruce Rauner started a dance long missing from the “hallowed halls” of the State Capitol. We see this tango often in Washington, D.C., as leaders such as Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) swerve around President Barrack Obama while trying to avoid the toes of certain conservatives among their own rank and file. But we haven’t seen this number play out in Springfield in a good long time.

I’m talking about the 2015 Illinois Budget Negotiations.

In year’s past, the governor would propose a budget, the speaker would disagree with the budget on a few points, submit his own budget and the governor would end up signing it in the interest of party unity. However, this year’s game played out differently. The Rauner Budget appeared just like other gubernatorial budget proposals in the past, but Madigan and the rest of the Democrats know they won’t get away with trying to pass their own version and expect the Republican to follow along.

Not even a full hour had passed before House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) and his allies had started their war of words against the Rauner Budget, working to get the upper hand in the court of public opinion to ensure the governor’s proposals are dead on arrival in the General Assembly. Calling it “reckless,” the man who has ultimate control of the state’s purse strings, effectively grabbed the businessman-turned-pol’s hands, cuing the House Band to start playing El Tango de Roxanne and let the tune ring throughout the state from Chicago on down to Carbondale. Some of the remarks where surprisingly cordial while others were insensitive and tacky, including one state senator comparing the governor to an “ISIS warrior.”

State Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

State Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

The next step came from Madigan himself, reviving the “Millionaires Tax,” nearly doubling the income tax rate on incomes for Illinoisans earning more than $1 million. This plan was approved by the voters last November, giving Madigan more cover to pass the initiative now that he has his mandate. And while the idea may not be a wholly bad one, because the likelihood millionaires will leave Illinois in droves because of a higher tax rate and the increased revenue is never a bad thing in a state so close to junk bond status, it will come nowhere close to shoring up the billions of dollars necessary to make up the massive debt hanging over the heads of taxpayers.

But this is all part of a plan to push for a sort of middle ground once the budget is finalized later this summer. Included in the Rauner Budget proposal is a 3o percent cut in university funding, and the education groups called it a gut to our schools, what critics ignored is the assessment that the university’s can withstand the hit since they’ve built up liquidity over the years (unlike other state organizations who decided to live paycheck to paycheck).

When various programs were halved, or eliminated, ignored was the substantial increase in public education. But the biggest failure from the massive criticisms, analyses, and praises since last week has been that the budget was severe and, surprisingly, in the black.

And why would the governor want to propose a budget where the state actually receives more revenue than it spends? Doesn’t he know that additional, expensive, services will make you popular despite doing everything else wrong? Actually, he does and his proposal, while lambasted by the left, was probably one of the smartest things to do when faced with supermajorities in the General Assembly.

Now that Rauner has shown his cards, Madigan and Senate Leader John Cullerton (D-Chicago) can examine the damage and counter with their own, likely massively more expensive, budget proposal that will ensure many domestic programs the state cannot possibly afford when facing more than $300 billion in debt and a pension crisis unlike any other in this country, so much so the main point in the national coverage of last week was the pension restructuring included in the Rauner Budget. This will result in criticism from many of Rauner’s allies as irresponsible and ignoring the long-term problem. The governor is already prepared for it, as he’s told his cabinet that he plans to take the brunt end of the attacks that will follow throughout the Spring negotiations. Threats of vetoes may even occur, which would be a rare occurrence.

When all is said and done, when Madigan has finished whipping his rank-and-file, and Cullerton the same in the Senate, Rauner will sign off on spending that will likely include tax increases for the wealthy, service fee increases, business and professional licenses fee hikes, and some other revenue generators (see: taxes) that will ultimately bring the state budget for the year at $0.

Because this is all a game, one not seen in this state for a long time. The two sides know what they’re playing. Madigan may have to dust off the cobwebs of the rulebook, since he’s been able to ease his way to victory so many times in the past. Rauner is probably taking notes in his manual, scratching out business terms for government ones. But both know what is happening and both will likely come out saying they scores a major victory for the state.

Who knows, maybe what will result is a spending plan that does not further depress the state’s outlook? Maybe the State Supreme Court will grant a favorable opinion on pension reform, allowing Rauner’s proposal to move forward with the court’s blessing? It’s not likely, but there is hope.

Instead of kowtowing to the special interest groups who will clamor for your voice in Springfield to convince some Democrat or Republican to back off on their “reckless” or “irresponsible” budget proposal, just sit back and watch the dance and see how many times the two switch spots before the music stops in June. Because, if Rauner decides not to run for reelection or loses in 2018, we will only have a few instances of government working the way it should before they return to the same old song and dance.

Justin Shimko

Justin Shimko is an award-winning writer and political analyst. He began as a reporter in his college days at the University of Oklahoma, writing for The Oklahoma Daily (rated as one of the best collegiate newspapers in the nation) and The Oklahoman, the statewide newspaper, winning awards from the CSPA and the Society of Professional Journalists. He later moved on to research and writing work for a number of political campaigns. His email is [email protected]