Budget battle over, school fund fight next

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

work today.”

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