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He’s right, but is he up to it?

Monday, Feb 27, 2012

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

When Jim Edgar was governor, reporters covering his annual budget speech would approach Senate President Pate Philip as he descended afterward from the House Speaker’s podium to ask about Edgar’s proposals. Eventually, or even right away, we’d hear an emphatic “No!” from Pate, and then we’d pronounce a good chunk of the budget dead on arrival.

Times were simpler back then than they were last week after Gov. Pat Quinn finished his latest budget address. Quinn’s proposal “benefited” from a lack of major specifics on the big issues of the day — the exploding costs of Medicaid and the state pension system.

The only things left to attack were program cuts and facility closings (and Republicans who did so risked being labeled as false budget hawks) and the phony complaint that his budget called for higher spending (operating costs are falling by about $400 million, but total state spending is going up mainly because pension payments are rising by about $1 billion next fiscal year).

To compensate for the lack of specifics, Quinn alternated between a gravely warning tone (welcoming legislators to their “rendezvous with reality” on the twin crises of Medicaid and pension spending) and overtly offering to partner with members on finding solutions. Quinn also mixed in a bit of tough love, demanding an answer from his pension reform commission by mid-April and warning legislators that if the Medicaid issue isn’t resolved, they could plan on spending the summer in Springfield.

It wasn’t the best budget speech ever given, but it was surely Quinn’s best. He finally appears to be getting his arms around his job. We’ll see how he does in the coming days, weeks and months when he isn’t sticking to a prepared script, but there was a distinct sense in the building last week that things might not be so hopeless after all.

While criticizing Quinn’s lack of specifics and his tardiness in realizing the importance of getting the budget in order, House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) said he planned to again work with House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) on the budget this spring. Sen. Matt Murphy, the Senate Republicans’ budget point person, offered many of the same criticisms as Cross but repeatedly claimed that his caucus did, indeed, attempt to work with the Democrats last year on budget cuts and would be willing to do the same this time around.

Both Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) pledged to work cooperatively with the other party, expressing a realization that these big issues are so difficult that there’s no way a partisan solution could possibly be crafted.

A thaw in the Statehouse’s longtime partisan rancor began last spring when Madigan realized he would need a bipartisan majority for a budget deal, not only to pass painful spending cuts but to also provide political cover for any budgetary gimmicks the House used. The Senate, meanwhile, began working cooperatively on workers’ compensation and education reforms.

But the House GOP’s budget work was ridiculed by their Senate counterparts, and the Senate GOP’s compromise on workers’ comp was derided by the House Republicans as inadequate. Only the education reforms received large bipartisan votes in both chambers.

The education reform working group therefore has become a template for the coming legislative session. Quinn has appointed working groups to tackle pensions and Medicaid in hopes of repeating last year’s success.

Politicians often work best in crisis situations. It’s a natural human tendency to rally together at such times. The governor did a good job last week of calmly and logically explaining the urgent need to work together for the benefit of the whole state.

There will be much shouting and moaning and protesting ahead, however, as significant cuts are made and these gut-wrenching problems are addressed. We’ll soon find out if Quinn has grown enough to hold it all together or whether the legislative leaders have to step in and do it for him.

Either way, Quinn is absolutely right that these problems need to be solved.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - AC - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 9:06 am:

    The problem is that, while the budget problem is well known, the solution isn’t. The devil really is in the details. Perhaps the vagueness of the speech gives Quinn some room to work with Madigan, but I will be shocked if Quinn actually follows through in working with the legislature.

  2. - Cassiopeia - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 9:36 am:

    I doubt that Quinn will actually work with the GA on solutions nor do they trust him not to publicly attack whatever solutions that the GA comes up with.

    Plus there may be a change in leadership positions within the Governor’s office that may complicate things.

  3. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 9:37 am:

    –..the phony complaint that his budget called for higher spending (operating costs are falling by about $400 million, but total state spending is going up mainly because pension payments are rising by about $1 billion next fiscal year).–

    It sure was a lot easier to pass a budget when you didn’t make any pension contributions. Members of both parties in the GA can wear the jacket for that in past years.

    Quinn’s proposed budget is a step towards sobriety. Now some more heavy lifting has to be done. Proposals beyond press conferences are welcome.

  4. - Ahoy - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 9:46 am:

    Great article,

    I think the Democrats are more than willing to meet the Republicans in the middle, we need the Republicans (esp. in the Senate) to meet the Democrats in the middle. One of the reasons the Senate Republican’s weren’t taken seriously is that their proposal was so far from reality they could not be taken in a serious manor.

  5. - Springfield Skeptic - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 10:10 am:

    The phrase by Quinn about “decades of mismanagement” concerns me. I realize I’m not as young as I used to be and my memory may be faulty but didn’t Edgar work through tough economic times and leave office with a surplus. And I don’t recall great fiscal difficulty when Ryan left (discounting his other issues). If that is so then the decades of mismanagement occurred when the Chicago Dems took over the State. I find that interesting.

  6. - TCB - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 10:12 am:

    @ Skeptic

    Edgar enjoy a surplus partly because the pension ramp was in its infant stages & he was not forced to make large pension payments.

  7. - Informer - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 10:15 am:

    The simple solution, like it or not, is simply have across the board cuts. each and every program is sacred to someone, but everyone has to suffer unfortunantly. Forget the usual cries of “our most fragile” and “our most in need” because at this point the most fragile and in need is all of us.

  8. - Small Town Liberal - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 10:38 am:

    - It wasn’t the best budget speech ever given -

    Out of curiosity, do you have a best in mind?

  9. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 10:42 am:

    –Forget the usual cries of “our most fragile” and “our most in need” because at this point the most fragile and in need is all of us.–

    I don’t consider myself among the most fragile or most in need at all. I’m just a regular commuting working schmuck. The whole point of the budgetary exercise is to set priorities and allocate resources.

  10. - Springfield Skeptic - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 10:51 am:

    TCB. I agree the pension ramp was not as steep as it is now. However, Edgar did something the Dems have not done, ever. Control government spending. Agency directors were directed to submit no more per budget year than the year before (Not sure how inflation figured into these amounts) and virtually nixed any new programs to keep the budget on an even keel.

  11. - independent - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 10:57 am:

    Making statements about across the board cuts is simplistic, already in the last few years senior home delivered meals have been cut so that locally they are only delivered 4 times a week. Any more cuts they will start dropping many who qualify altogether, so these seniors will be much more likely to end up in nursing homes on Medicaid which costs the state even more money. Similar cuts have occurred in other Human Services which will also result in increased costs to the state. Cuts must be smart and the revenue side must be addressed.

  12. - Shock & Awww(e) - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:15 am:

    Cuts must not only be smart, they should also reflect the priorities of those controlling government.

    What does one choose to cut when your back is up against the wall? How deeply?

    We’ll see.

  13. - Informer - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:42 am:

    >>I don’t consider myself among the most fragile or most in need at all. I’m just a regular commuting working schmuck. The whole point of the budgetary exercise is to set priorities and allocate resources.

  14. - mokenavince - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:54 am:

    Quinn seems to be getting the hang of it now. Since he’s all we got right now, I like the fact
    thats he’s addressing a lot of problems.He’s just got to stick with and not flip flop.

  15. - Wensicia - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 12:05 pm:

    ==nor do they trust him not to publicly attack whatever solutions that the GA comes up with.==

    I agree with Cassiopeia, Quinn is often his own worst enemy.

  16. - lincolnlover - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 12:26 pm:

    The biggest problem with across the board cuts is that past cuts have not been equal. The result is that several agencies and departments have already absorbed 20 to 30 percent cuts, while others have had small or no cuts. Those who have already been cut cannot take any more without shutting down.

  17. - wishbone - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 8:04 pm:

    Across the board cuts put the real decision making as to what to cut down in the Departments where people actually know what is happening. It is the way to cut with the least harm.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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