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Voice of The Southern: Time's up, get a budget done

Carbondale Southern Illinoisan

Wednesday, April 19, 2017  |  Editorial  |  STAFF

Budget--State (8) Schimpf, Paul--State Senate, 58

It’s the classic conundrum: What came first — the chicken or the egg?

That’s pretty much what’s happening right now in Springfield when it comes to the state budget. Everybody is pre-occupied pointing fingers and placing blame, yet nobody wants to get a deal done. What’s worse, it doesn’t even seem like a priority.

For example, the General Assembly is in the middle of a two-week spring break. No budget for nearly two years? No problem, go ahead and take a little vacation.

It’s always dangerous to compare government work to private enterprise, but it seems unlikely that in the private sector workers involved with a project two years behind schedule would be given vacation time.

To be fair, realistic and pessimistic all in the same breath — it’s not like a deal would’ve gotten done in the next 10 days.

Watching our legislators and the executive branch walk away from the state’s most pressing need is just what we’ve come to expect. And, quite frankly, that’s not acceptable on any level.

According to the state’s Constitution, the governor is supposed to prepare and submit a balanced budget to the General Assembly each fiscal year. The General Assembly then “shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the State,” according to the Constitution.

Obviously, none of this happened in the past two years. Or, at least, none of it has led to an actual working document.

That’s where the chicken and the egg come in again. It seems as though nobody is even willing to get the process started. Constitutionally, that job that is supposed to be done by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

In February, Rauner did present a plan to the General Assembly. At the time, it gave some hope that we were nearing an end to the budget impasse.

“I would expect that negotiations are going to continue and perhaps even ramp up a little bit,” said Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, in a story from February. There were others, too, that shared Schimpf’s optimism.

That was Feb. 15. It’s now April 19. And we’re still without a budget. The state has essentially gotten nowhere to end the now 658-day stalemate.

Think about that for a minute. Six-hundred and fifty-eight days. The state has gone 658 days without a budget — nearly two years.

We are running out of ways to say the situation is unacceptable – but is anybody surprised anymore? We’re not.

This has become a game of chicken between the Democrats and Republicans. It’s a strong-willed game of chicken between Rauner, our Republican governor, and the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.

We all know what usually happens in a game of chicken? Somebody gets hurt — and that somebody is the hard-working people of Illinois.

It’s our universities. It’s our social service agencies. It’s everyone affected by exercise in political futility. It’s the people who are leaving the state in record numbers because they’re sick of it.

Locally, the Women’s Center could close within three months without funding. And, the center’s clientele are lucky it has managed to remain operational.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale is suffering. SIUC is looking to borrow millions from SIUE. And, on Tuesday, Moody’s Investors Service said SIU may be in danger of a credit downgrade.

That’s a pretty sad self-inflicted state of affairs.

According the Associated Press, the state has a $5 billion deficit and $13 million more in unpaid bills. A balanced budget is not a magic wand that is going to clean up the mess that has been years in the making.

Climbing out of that kind of a hole will take years upon years of fiscal responsibility.

But, what a balanced budget does is start that climb. The state has to start somewhere, and the sooner the better. But, until the state has a budget, the hole is going to get deeper.

We realize any balanced budget will include cuts that will be difficult to swallow. There will have to be provisions for additional revenue. That’s just another reason to get a deal done sooner rather than later.

We readily admit the governor, our senators and representatives face a difficult task. But, it’s a job they asked for. This is not the time to kick the can down the road in the form of another stopgap budget out of mind. A temporary budget is not what Illinois needs.

Illinois needs a budget. It needs to start the recovery.

Our lawmakers say they need to work in a bipartisan way. We’ve heard it before. We’re tired of hearing it.

Show us. Get a balanced budget done.