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More crazy talk in Springfield

Monday, May 23, 2016

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

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.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - wordslinger - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 9:16 am:

    –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.–

    And there we remain.

    It’s astounding to me that some of the people, all of the time, accept the governor’s willful sabotage of core state functions for a partisan political wish list as a reasonable use of his power.

    What are the economic and fiscal ROI of scaling back collective bargaining? Of marginal changes to workman’s comp?

    When would they cover the nut of the billions in new deficits, the billions in lost economic activity caused by the state not paying its bills, and the thousands of lost jobs as a direct result of the governor’s political strategy?

    No catch phrases or weasel words, please — those I got. Projections and data.

  2. - methinks - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 9:25 am:

    Word, we already know that the economics of the turnaround agenda do not work. It is not a business play, it is purely to shift the balance of power that currently helps elect democrats. That is what is supposed to be shaken up, that is what is supposed to be turned around. Unions and social service providers support the status quo of democratic controlled government and Gov. R will fight until he is out of office to neutralize that base of support. Only in the political context can all of Rauner’s moves make sense.

  3. - MSIX - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 9:28 am:


    Rauner doesn’t care about ROI as far as the state itself is concerned. As long as his 1% buddies get a cut of the pie when privatization becomes the norm.

  4. - Joe M - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 9:32 am:

    Rauner is a sly one though. He so willingly gave up the 5% income tax even though he knew we needed it. Why? So he could hold the budget hostage for his turnaround agenda, before he would agree that the 5% tax rate was needed. Unfortunately, everybody played right into his hand when they went along with him in sun-setting the 5% rate.

  5. - Downstate - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 9:33 am:

    Great article Rich.

    Makes me wonder if Madigan wishes for the good ole days when his choices for governor (Blago and Quinn) were in office?

  6. - Anon221 - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 9:35 am:

    “People think we’re fighting about the budget in Illinois. Well, what we’re really fighting about is the future of Illinois,” Rauner said.
    “With your hard work, we’re going to bring in the resources and put together the biggest ground game that’s ever been done in legislative races in Illinois history,” said Rauner, who added, “We’ve got to pick up seats against Mike Madigan’s Democrats and the Chicago Democratic machine.”
    To Rauner it’s capitulation or nuthin’. It’s persistence and pain. It’s the rush of the fight. He has nothing to lose, and he’s eager and willing to play with millions of his own and his friends’ dollars to make sure people come to know that truth. So… what to do??? Piecemeal the budget(s) until after November to see who “wins”. Wear the Rauner colors (khaki) and jacket (Carhartt), or start to stand for your constituents as a Republican instead. Shake your head as a legislator and leave the fight for another office or private sector. Illinois WILL be known as the budget failure of the nation. That is a certain legacy for all involved.

  7. - Honeybear - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 9:37 am:

    It is Ragnarok, the final battle or Norse myth. Everyone dies. All is destroyed.

    You are absolutely right. It is pure lunacy. It is beyond our comprehension. Truly it is beyond comprehension. The hubris and privilege of a few has taken our state down.

  8. - Ms. SHEESH - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 9:38 am:

    MSIX — Exactly.

  9. - Jimmy H - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 9:53 am:

    Rich, great column!

  10. - Norseman - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 9:56 am:

    Word +1

  11. - Facts are Stubborn Things - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 10:09 am:

    MJM knows that if he gives Rauner some “turn around agenda” items in exchange for a budget (which will include a tax increase), Rauner will take credit for the agenda while blaming MJM and the dems for the tax increase. MJM gives Rauner his items in exchange for getting blamed for a tax hike. MJM knows that eventually a budget must be passed, and that a Gov. owns a state wide crisis…he runs state wide and legislatures run in districts.

  12. - anon person - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 10:39 am:

    Question is where does MJM pick up seats that will vote for tax increase? Everything looks pretty saturated as it is. Increasing your numbers by getting another Drury or Franks into office won’t help matters.

  13. - AC - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 10:46 am:

    Someday, I hope reading Rich Miller’s realistic analysis of Illinois politics will be less depressing than watching the ending of Old Yeller.

  14. - Robert the Bruce - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 10:51 am:

    Excellent column. My fear is that Madigan wins a true veto-proof majority, Rauner expects him to pass a tax hike without any republican votes, Madigan won’t do this, and we’re back to square one

  15. - Casual observe - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 10:52 am:

    I think the governor needs to understand that the speaker doesn’t really want to have a super majority. He likes that it forces R votes on any legislation the governor wants or needs.

  16. - Qui Tam - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 11:02 am:

    =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.=
    Thus, since voters will presumably punish those who support a tax increase, the revenue shortfall will continue as it reflects the will of the people (who vote).

  17. - Rod - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 11:34 am:

    Rich I don’t agree with the idea that k-12 schools will not open if a state education funding bill is not passed. As has been pointed out many times numerous school districts receive a very low percentage of their budgets from the State. There are also school districts with extensive reserves equal to one year’s budget.

    Other districts, for example Springfield SD 186, which receives about 27.5% of its funds from State sources and has been averaging 61 operating days’ worth of school funds on hand with some long term borrowing available to it, likely it could open with significant layoffs. So maybe a better way to put it Rich might be that many school districts will not be able to open without a k-12 education budget being passed. We can all agree such a proposition is not survivable in the long run.

    Rich the damage has been done to social service providers already who are owed money not subject to Court orders, according to the Civic Federation approximately 800 social services agencies are still waiting to be paid on contracts worth $357 million that are not backed by appropriations. These contracts specifically state that payments are subject to appropriations, State officials have provided assurances backed by no money that the payments will be made eventually. Many social services programs that Governor Rauner proposed to eliminate in his FY2016 budget probably should have no expectation of funding in FY 16. These include mental health services not covered by Medicaid, funeral and burial assistance for low-income families, after school programs for teens and programs that serve immigrants and individuals with autism and epilepsy.

    It’s a terrible situation and there is no question about that and the situation of some of the State Universities could be the worst of all. But to be honest it’s not totally “crazy talk” to indicate that this situation could last until November. The consequences will be significant and hopefully our politicians will be cognizant of those consequences.

  18. - Mama - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 11:38 am:

    “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.”

    Rauner will make sure the unions crash before the elections via a forced strike.

    I also have a feeling Attorney General Madigan will force the state to completely shut down either before or right after the election because there is no money to pay anyone without a budget.

  19. - Mama - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 11:41 am:

    “That’s no solution.”

    Rich, do you truly believe Rauner’s T.A. will help the state? If yes, how does Rauner’s T.A. help the state out of it’s financial mess?

  20. - Mama - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 11:44 am:

    == methinks @ 9:25 am:==
    methinks, you hit the nail on the head.

  21. - Mama - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 11:50 am:

    Word, I want to add that healthcare & other private businesses in Springfield & other cities/towns will go down the tubes too.

  22. - Doc Anonymous - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 12:20 pm:

    Rich’s analysis seems sound to me. From my left of center perch, Rauner is the main culprit. But that doesn’t exempt Madigan from responsibility. Rauner will be governor for four years. You’ve got to work with him.

    Madigan seems to forget that the Democrats are the pro-government party. When Illinois government looks bad, things look bad for Democrats–even with a Republican governor. And when government fails, it fails dominantly Democratic voters, not the 1% heading off to Dartmouth. So the crisis hurts Democrats more than Republicans.

    Madigan needs to make a deal–or at least see if there is reasonable deal to be made. His position that budgetary issues should be kept absolutely separate from all others isn’t tenable. Rauner doesn’t have 60 votes in the House, but Madigan doesn’t have any votes in the governor’s mansion.

    We’re all sick of waiting for the next election, and as Rich notes, the election is unlikely to change things significantly. People are suffering thanks to the lack of social services, and public universities and the communities they support are going under. The only way for Madigan to avoid sharing this legacy with Rauner is for him to show himself willing to meet Rauner part of the way. Say what you will of Rauner, he has at least adjusted some of his demands as we’ve gone along. Madigan needs to show a similar willingness to budge.

  23. - Capitol View - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 12:26 pm:

    there are dollars in the general fund and in special funds — pass the FY 16 now and pay providers and education, and that cash infusion will carry most organizations until the November election.
    Human services spending will be down, due to so many community based providers already closing their doors and never reopening. So long waiting lists saves the state money — immorally, of course.

  24. - Ginhouse Tommy - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 12:28 pm:

    I’ve said it before, Rauner doesn’t care how much pain he is causing. He has his eyes on his T.A. that won’t work and he doesn’t care if the state has to shut down to get it. Total victory or nothing. That’s the way he’s acting. Everyone has underestimated how cold blooded he really is. He doesn’t want a series of small victories, he wants it all. Man, what a mess.

  25. - Belle - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 12:34 pm:

    Terrific column!

  26. - Unsolicited advice - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 1:08 pm:

    Rich, great article but you seem to assume the supreme court needs to rule to cut off state employee pay. That isn’t the case. The supremes decided the issue, as you mention. Now all that needs to happen is for the lower Court to extend their ruling to the current order. That could happen tomorrow and is very likely to happen on July 1 when they need new ct orders to pay employees for fy 2017.

  27. - Rich Miller - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 1:09 pm:

    ===Now all that needs to happen is for the lower Court to extend their ruling to the current order===


    True, but the case is in St. Clair County. I ain’t holding my breath.

  28. - Louis G. Atsaves - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 1:25 pm:

    “===Word, we already know that the economics of the turnaround agenda do not work.”====

    Did I miss something? The turn around agenda was implemented here in Illinois?

    Are there true “projections and data” that justify not changing a thing and maintaining the status quo that is the Illinois economy? Or can we justify the need for some changes based on the current economic climate which includes the failure the enact a state budget.

    Wow, I spend three days in Denver and everything happened while I was gone! :-)

  29. - Oswego Willy - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 1:29 pm:

    ===Did I miss something? The turn around agenda was implemented here in Illinois?===


    People know the Turbaround Agenda’s 1.4% and $500+ million ROI is still ridiculous and a charade to he real want of decimating unions.

    Nothing has changed, lol.

  30. - Paul - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 1:35 pm:

    Stupid Question — how do you start talking about a 2017 budget when the 2016 hasn’t been passed?

  31. - Six Degrees of Separation - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 2:10 pm:

    ===Did I miss something? The turn around agenda was implemented here in Illinois?===

    You have to pass it to find out what’s in it.

  32. - Sue - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 2:41 pm:

    I would have to think Jack Frank’s seat goes to a solid R

  33. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 3:06 pm:

    Even Oswego Willy was complaining about his property taxes and threatening to move to Texas last Friday. Can we just stop this nonsense about no reforms are needed.

  34. - Oswego Willy - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 6:25 pm:

    - Lucky Pierre -

    No I didn’t… Here’s what I commented…

    ===I have family in Collin County Texas. I tell them my property taxes here in Kendall County, they say that’s 6-7 years of property taxes for them.===

    I didn’t complain, I was asked, I answered.

    ===There’s a lot to like about Texas, when I visit, it’s tough to come back. But, I do. I love Illinois, and in the future I may move, and Illinois has serious problems, some more dire now than 14 months ago, but it wasn’t sunshine and lollipops then too.===

    I’m not looking to move, not giving up on Illinois, I made a point. I also like South Carolina and “threaten” to move there. Where am I? Here.

    ===Illinois needs to right it’s ship and show stability to keep or attract new businesses and jobs, keep peole here, have people move here, but right now, even the credit raters are nervous. Lots of work to do.===

    Please, keep up

  35. - peon - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 6:34 pm:

    == 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.==

    After 11 months there is no golden bridge the Democrats can build for Rauner to retreat over. His strategy of holding the budget hostage has no exit strategy - that is one of its many problems.

    The constitution clearly expects a “clean” budget each year and labor (or any other) policy determined by the weight of political influence (i.e. votes you can put on the issue in the legislature). Why do we want to normalize anything else ?

  36. - VanillaMan - Monday, May 23, 16 @ 6:50 pm:

    We have a governor who is a failure, showing us that government is a failure.

  37. - Demoralized - Tuesday, May 24, 16 @ 8:35 am:

    == Can we just stop this nonsense about no reforms are needed.==

    Can you please stop your nonsense that if someone doesn’t agree with the Governor’s “reforms” that one believe no reforms are needed? If you want to write press releases for the Governor then go do that. Stop subjecting us to your juvenile absolutist commentary already.

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