It has looked to me for a very long time that House Speaker Michael Madigan has been waiting for an existential state crisis to force Gov. Bruce Rauner to back completely away from his anti-union, pro-business Turnaround Agenda so that they can pass a “clean” state budget.
As you surely know by now, the governor won’t agree to a budget deal until he gets things like changes to workers’ compensation insurance laws and reductions of collective bargaining rights for government union members.
Whether that crisis comes after the Illinois Supreme Court rules that state workers cannot be paid without an appropriation, or whether it’s when schools and/or universities don’t open on time, or if Republicans threaten to break ranks on overrides of the governor’s appropriations vetoes (particularly on higher education funding), or a local mayor shuts off the water or sewer access to an important state facility, like a prison, I don’t know. Nobody does.
The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that state employees could not receive back pay without a formal legislative appropriation. That ruling would appear to apply to the current situation where employees are being paid by court order because Rauner vetoed their salaries out of the budget last year (along with about everything else). The Court usually goes on break from June through August, so that potential crisis might be months away.
Most schools and universities won’t truly feel the pinch until late July or August. And because Team Rauner has excelled at preventing Republicans from breaking ranks on overrides, any appropriations bill will likely be closely examined for a veto’s potential to wreak any havoc.
I think almost everyone, including Madigan, has been surprised at how long Rauner’s administration has been able to keep state facilities open without an official budget. They can’t pay for electricity, or water or other services because, again, Rauner vetoed those appropriations last year.
The administration is performing these minor miracles at least partly because they suspect that Madigan is trying to wait them out. They don’t want a crisis to force their hands on economic reforms. A tax hike without significant reforms would be an utter political disaster for this governor—which both he and Madigan understand.
Without compromises, we’re heading for more months without a budget, so we could very well see whether something big will crash before the election.
And along those lines, I’ve been hearing people say that the two sides will just have to fight it out in the November elections before this impasse can be resolved.
But that’s crazy talk.
First, what are the social service providers supposed to do without a real budget until then? “Collapse,” is your answer. What will happen then? Widespread, utter misery.
Second, if there’s no budget agreement then this will be, by far, the most brutal campaign season in memory. And as one Statehouse type pointed out to me the other day, win or lose, members in both parties will return to November’s post-election veto session carrying the 60 or so harshly negative mailers sent against them and a very bad attitude. It’ll take quite a while before everybody calms down.
Third, Speaker Madigan is currently three votes shy of a reliable veto-proof supermajority because three House Democrats can’t be counted on to vote for taxes or spending. He got rid of one of those guys in the primary when Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) went down hard.
That means Madigan has to net at the very least two more pickups to impose his will on Gov. Rauner by overriding his vetoes. Madigan does have a shot at picking up some seats because of the presidential turnout dynamics and Donald Trump which will favor Democrats, but his district maps might already be stretched to their partisan limits. And the Republicans have a shot at picking up some seats in areas where Trump could do well.
So, putting this off until after November may just mean an even worse status quo, with fiscal carnage, a destruction of the social services safety net and massively hardened feelings.
And, even if Madigan picks up lots of seats, does anybody really think he’ll try to run a purely Democratic tax hike and then override the governor’s veto? That would be political disaster for his members.
So the election could essentially mean that Madigan will simply override spending vetoes and the debt will continue to accumulate.
That’s no solution.