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Time to grow up?

Monday, Feb 28, 2011

* My syndicated newspaper column looks at Speaker Madigan’s latest move

After decades of dominating every tiny aspect of life in his legislative chamber, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan now appears to want his members to grow up a little and do some things for themselves.

One of the first steps in that process to adulthood is handing more power to the House’s five appropriations committees and the House Revenue Committee.

The appropriations committees have been toothless kittens for decades. They listen to a parade of agency directors outline their upcoming budget requests and press them about jobs for various constituencies, minority and otherwise. Occasionally, an appropriations chairperson will briefly have a seat at the bargaining table when the governor and the leaders sit down to talk turkey.

But, for the most part, they’ve been cut out of the process. That’s especially been the case the past two years when the General Assembly has sent “lump sum” appropriations to the governor in order to avoid cuts.

But Illinois’ new “Budgeting for Results” law has given Madigan an opportunity to hand off a bit of power to see how his members deal with it. The law requires that the state first determine how much revenue is available to spend before deciding how to spend it. Then, agencies have to come up with realistic benchmarks to prove that their programs are performing up to par.

So, Madigan has introduced a House resolution to establish how much cash will be available to the state from every possible revenue source. Determining the actual anticipated revenues will be the job of the House Revenue Committee, which will begin holding hearings on the matter this week.

Once the resolution is passed, each of the five appropriations committees will be given a spending limit. They will then decide how the state cash is divvied up agency by agency. If they exceed the limit, or discover they don’t have enough money to go around, they’ll have to make cuts.

To be sure, Madigan’s staff will have a lot to do with this process. And dealing with how the Senate determines its own revenue and spending process hasn’t yet been figured out. The two chambers could hold a conference committee (which we haven’t seen in years), or the “budgeteers” (trusted appropriations lieutenants) could step in and negotiate, or Madigan and the other leaders could just take it from there.

But considering that more than half the chamber’s members sit on the various House appropriations committees, it will, at the very least, be a needed eye-opening experience for these people, who so often have been shielded from making any hard choices.

Madigan, by the way, also has informed standing committee chairmen that they need to learn to say “No” a lot more often. Usually, the committees will approve legislation as a courtesy, or send bills to the floor even though the measures still may need a lot of work.

But Madigan reportedly is concerned about the large number of bills introduced this year and wants the chairmen to start weeding them out. In the past, Madigan has imposed limits to the number of bills his members could advance. Now, though, he wants members to try to take more responsibility for themselves.

To an outsider, this story probably looks pretty silly. Of course legislators should be more responsible. But those of us who’ve watched the House over the years know how much they’ve been spoiled by a leader who has taken it upon himself to do everything for them.

After the 2001 terrorist attacks, Illinois’ revenue streams crashed with the economy. The General Assembly was faced with the prospect of approving a budget with less money than the year before. Madigan told Republican Gov. George Ryan and Republican Senate President Pate Philip that his chamber was full of people who wanted to keep spending freely. So, they devised a scheme to pass a bloated budget and then Ryan would either reduce or delete spending items. The House would vote to override the cuts, then the Senate would vote to accept and everybody would be happy.

Now, though, Madigan may be thinking of what might happen when he’s not around to protect his members from reality. Nobody will ever again have the immense power and sway over the process that he’s had.

The question, however, is: After three decades of pampering his mushrooms, how long will it take to move his members into adulthood?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - MrJM - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 1:31 pm:

    After three decades of pampering his mushrooms, how long will it take to move his members into adulthood?

    Can stunted bonsai
    ever hope to grow up into
    a mighty oak tree?

    – MrJM

  2. - the Other Anonymous - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 1:33 pm:

    It sounds to me like Madogan is going to end up with more, not less, power over the budget process. If Madipgan has decided that the State needs to make substantial cuts in the budget to get out of the deficit hole, this gives him a lot of leverage over wayward legislators.Remember, the Revenue Committee is composed of Madign loyalists, probably more so than even the Executive Committee. Thus Madigan will have a large hand in giving the various appropriations committees the limits on spending, and thus control over the level of spending. His members and the Republicans will never get a chance to vote on bills with different spending levels.

  3. - just sayin' - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 1:36 pm:

    The gene pool on the D side is definitely deeper. Madigan has always looked for smart, competent people. I think they’ll rise to the occasion quickly.

    It’s the R side that’s really stuck in kindergarten.

  4. - Palatine - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 1:44 pm:

    Through the years we have witnessed what happens when power on both side of the asile is to closely heald. Something has to change and this is a good first step. Oh of course it will help the speaker in distancing his last name when the cuts come down. Hello Lisa I mean Gov. Lisa

  5. - Boone Logan Square - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 1:55 pm:

    This may not be in the spirit of growing up, but the popular @MayorEmanuel twitter account has been revealed to be the work of Punk Planet founder and Columbia College professor Dan Sinker.

    No word on what charity Sinker will select for Mayor-Elect Emanuel’s donation

  6. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 2:01 pm:

    Do we think this move signals that Madigan will resign the General Assembly within the next few years? Appropriate times for such a resignation could be (1) after redistricting; (2) after the 2012 election, to pave the way for Lisa to run in 2014.

  7. - Pink Tomato - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 2:01 pm:

    Wishful thinking. I will believe it when I see it.

  8. - Holdingontomywallet - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 2:17 pm:

    “It’s the R side that’s really stuck in kindergarten.” - always looking for an opportunity to zing the republicans. I’ll be the first to admit the republicans open themselves up for criticism, but the democrats have had complete control of Illinois government since 2002 and our financial situation is pretty poor to say the least. The committee chairman do need to say “no” to proposed bills more often and publicize it when they do. People need to know that the legislators are doing their job. Cuts are inevitable and they all need to grow up and share the responsibility. How long will it take to move them into adulthood? Not long, it’s expected - they see the writing on the wall.

  9. - Old Milwaukee - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 2:44 pm:

    just sayin -
    Is that the same brilliant D side that spent us into a $13 billion deficit and kept telling everyone it was going to be OK?

    Not exactly top of the line number crunchers down there.

  10. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 28, 11 @ 2:46 pm:

    –Now, though, Madigan may be thinking of what might happen when he’s not around to protect his members from reality. Nobody will ever again have the immense power and sway over the process that he’s had.–

    I’ve been thinking that he’s looking to wrap things up, too. The moves on pensions, teacher tenture, spending, etc. seem to indicate that.

    And no, it’s not the Grand Lisa Conspiracy. She could have ran last year and knocked Quinn out of the primary (think she would have beat Brady?).

    If she had, Hynes would have probably beat Alexi in the Senate primary and Kirk like a rented mule in the general.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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