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With junk status looming, Gov. Bruce Rauner holds key to financial recovery

St. Louis Post Dispatch

Tuesday, July 4, 2017  |  Editorial  |   By the Editorial Board

Budget--State (8) , Governor (44) Madigan, Michael--State House, 22
Illinois was on the verge Monday of being able to pay off long-overdue bills, allowing social service providers to keep their doors open and road construction workers to remain on the job. Republican and Democrat state legislators have agreed on a budget bill that includes a major income tax increase, but Gov. Bruce Rauner has vowed to veto the measure because it fails to deliver an overhaul of the state’s workers’ compensation system and other reforms he has been seeking for nearly three years.

Illinois citizens deserve a budget, state creditors need to be paid and critical health services must be delivered. Republican Rauner won’t be getting everything he wants with the budget bill passed by the Illinois House on Sunday. Nor will his nemesis, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. But the entire state loses with each passing day that the budget stalemate continues. Illinois is now in its third year without a spending plan.

Madigan, 75, has been House speaker for 32 years and a lawmaker for 46. He’s an attorney and widely regarded as a political mastermind. On Friday he sent messages to the nation’s major credit agencies asking them to defer potential downgrades of the state’s credit status to junk until Illinois gets a budget. Working through the weekend, 15 Republican House members broke ranks to join 57 Democrats in approving a $36.5 billion spending plan that depends on more than $5 billion in tax hikes.

The Senate passed a similar measure this year and was expected to approve this one. A Rauner veto would challenge Madigan’s ability to hang on to the 14 Republican votes he needs for an override.

What is more important to Rauner, winning this game of chicken with Madigan or securing the welfare of millions of Illinoisans? Too many residents, businesses, educators and health care providers need Illinois to begin paying the $15 billion in unpaid bills. They pay the price for the Rauner-Madigan ideological fight.

House Democrats said they do not want to raise income taxes but agreed to do it so the state could move forward. Rauner has said he could tolerate a tax hike in exchange for a permanent property tax freeze. Democrats are open to a four-year freeze but oppose anything permanent, saying that would lead to more financial problems down the road.

Rauner has talked about reforming the state’s pension program, but experts say that is constitutionally dubious, and the governor never came forth with a solid proposal anyway. He also wants to debate whether state finances could be stabilized by rooting out fraud and abuse from workers’ compensation, setting term limits, redistricting and helping businesses control costs.

All of these topics are worthy of vigorous debate, which can’t happen while the budget ax hangs over Illinois.

Madigan's House approves major income tax hike as Republicans break with Rauner

The Illinois House on Sunday approved a major income tax increase as more than a dozen Repub…