Background

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It is easy to get bogged down in the confusing daily minutiae of this historic failure, so I will try to provide a thousand-foot view for the sake of perspective. When Governor Rauner took office two years ago, he demanded we pass a series of union-busting, non-budgetary reforms before he would agree to any budget deal. A former executive in the private sector, he has never seemed willing or able to grasp the fact that because lawmaking is a system of checks and balances he must negotiate with Democrats, who control both legislative chambers. I personally negotiated two bills with Governor Rauner’s administration in his first year in office (HB218 & HB494), passed them, and watched him veto both after moving the goalposts.

He has demonstrated a callous willingness to crush the state’s social services, using poor folks and children in the public school system as fiscal hostages to leverage “reforms” that would by his own accounting save us only a small fraction of the state’s expenditures. Our bill backlog has nearly tripled since Governor Rauner has taken office, and the payment cycle has ballooned from around 30 days to around 6 months.

The Governor isn’t wrong that we need reforms, and Democrats are certainly not blameless in this awful ordeal. That is why the Senate worked for months on bipartisan reforms to education funding, local government consolidation, worker’s compensation, pensions, and more. These talks intentionally excluded both the Governor and Speaker Madigan, as all previous discussions including the two of them have produced nothing but shameless political posturing and wasted time. Eventually, despite reaching negotiated bills with their Republican colleagues, the Governor killed the talks by convincing Republican Senators to vote in opposition because he didn’t get everything he wanted. Though the bills contained many of the provisions sought by the Republicans, including painful spending cuts and significant reforms, Senate Democrats were forced to pass the bills themselves.

As a House appropriations chair and a member of the budget negotiating team for the House Democrats, I advocated for our caucus to send that package back to the Senate with some progressive changes even if we could not count on Republican support. There is plenty to dislike about the package sent over by the Senate and I heard from many constituents concerned about specific cuts and policy changes, but ultimately we need a fully funded budget. We have gone as far as we can go on patchwork solutions. With every “lifeline” and “stopgap” we pass, someone is left out or underfunded and the source of those funds simply cannot sustain the whole state.