After years of ugly gridlock and weeks of groups and
political leaders whipping up an already disgusted populace over a 1.2
percentage point income tax increase, lots of legislators were understandably
on edge last week.
Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) tweeted ahead of the votes to
override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s vetoes of a budget package that it was “hard
not to think about the [recent Virginia] congressional shooting showing up to
And so people were naturally a bit rattled when a woman
triggered a more than two-hour delay of those override votes as police and a
hazardous materials team frantically combed the Statehouse.
The woman, described by a friend as a “wonderful” person and
“beloved” by many, threw some sort of substance at or into a few offices,
including the governor’s. A couple of her friends said she might have been
attempting to perform a “good luck” ritual.
Depending on your outlook, her possible good luck ritual
either worked or failed. We now have a tax increase and a sort of balanced budget
and everyone can take a breather for a while. On the other hand, we now have a
tax increase and a sort of balanced budget that are fabulously unpopular and
will require more work to fix.
Next fiscal year’s budget is really not going to be pretty,
but trouble will start even before then. Moody’s has already declared that it
could downgrade the state to junk bond status even with the tax hike. If that
happens, it will damage the government’s ability to borrow to pay off some of
the $15 billion in debt that has been piling up during the two-year impasse.
And even if Illinois isn’t immediately downgraded, the state
will hover on the precipice of junk status for the foreseeable future, perhaps
for years. There just isn’t enough money on the revenue side of this plan and
too much on the spending side to ensure balanced budgets into the future and to
pay off that mountain of backlogged bills.
What lawmakers did was fix the state government’s immediate
problem. A broader deal would have been preferable, but that obviously wasn’t
possible. And there isn’t a person around Rauner who doesn’t believe that he
now has a dual political advantage of new state revenues to spend along with
his popular opposition to the tax hike.
So, now what? There’s a belief by some that Speaker Madigan
has the very thing he has wanted for more than two years: A working bipartisan
super-majority to override the governor at will.
But that, I believe, is a misinterpretation of what
happened. Madigan didn’t create that super-majority, his members did. If it had
been left up to Madigan alone, the tax hike probably would’ve failed. His
members were the ones who reached out to their Republican colleagues to
negotiate a budget and a tax hike. And when Madigan tried to send them home for
a few days, they insisted he keep the House in session and call the votes.
When Republicans started dropping off the roll call last
week after taking tremendous heat, Madigan could’ve let the override fail and
made Gov. Rauner be forever tagged as “Gov. Junk.” But his members wanted
it to pass, so he rounded up more Democratic votes, including a couple of his
own targets – something that never happens in that caucus.
Madigan’s members will be hugely important to any further
veto overrides, but those breakaway House Republicans will be even more
And that leads us to the education funding reform bill. As I
write this, the Senate has not sent the bill to the governor, who has vowed to
veto what he calls a “Chicago bailout.” While that bill helps more
truly needy districts in the long run than the governor’s plan, it does contain
more money for Chicago Public Schools.
After taking unimaginably heat for voting for a tax hike, it
seems doubtful that those same 10 Republicans will then turn around and vote
for a “Chicago bailout” that will be portrayed as stealing money from
their own students. Without those votes, a veto can’t be overridden.
Both the Democratic and Republican school funding plans
require state aid to be distributed via a new formula. No new formula, no
school funding. No school funding, lots of schools don’t open after summer
vacation. And just like that, we’re in another full-blown crisis.
Maybe that woman could be brought back to the Statehouse for
another good-luck ceremony – only without the hazmat teams this time.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political
newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.
Miller’s column is just a fraction of the content that appears in this week’s
print edition of the Southwest News-Herald. Want to get the all the news? Pick
up the Southwest News-Herald on local newsstands for just 75 cents a copy. For
greater savings and convenience, call (708) 496-0265 during weekday business
hours and order a subscription by mail, delivered each week to your home or