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Other View: Budget votes should be just the start of cooperation at Statehouse

Effingham Daily News

Monday, July 17, 2017  |  Editorial  |  

Budget--State (8) , Taxes, income (86)

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

At last.

You could use those words as a sigh of relief now that Illinois finally has a full-year state budget.

It would be accurate. While a budget hasn't magically removed the numerous issues still plaguing the state, it is the first step toward stability. Businesses, schools, universities, social service agencies and governments need to know what they have to work with if they are to be successful. That's been lacking for two years. And while it's unlikely the new budget includes everything these entities would have liked, it provides a foundation on which they can start rebuilding.

But we think that phrase is a more apt description of what we saw from more than a dozen legislators as they cast their votes for the spending and revenue measures that constitute the state's first budget in two years: They put the people - instead of their political party - first. Whether their constituents agree with their representatives' vote - and many do not - we had elected representatives go against their leaders to vote for what they thought was best for the people they represent.

In the end, 15 House Republicans voted for the income tax increase, with 10 of them voting to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto. Some House Democrats were reportedly instrumental in making sure the votes were taken. In the Senate, one Republican joined Democrats in approving the hike. Anyone who listened to the proceedings could tell these legislators agonized over their decisions before casting their votes.

In the hyper-partisan environment that dominates today's politics, this is a rarity. It takes guts to go against leadership. House Speaker Michael Madigan is also the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party. In the past, he's run primary opponents against members who have irked him. Rauner provides the lion's share of funding for the state Republican Party. If those 10 to 15 representatives plan to run again, they're going to need support during their next campaign, and have risked their party's trust.

In our eyes, they traded that for a stronger covenant with the public they represent. We know having to fork over more in income taxes is an unpleasant pill to swallow for us everyday residents, but there should be comfort in knowing there are elected officials who put the needs of the people above the desires of their political party. We've consistently said we need bipartisan compromise if Illinois is ever to resolve its issues. That happened this past week, and it needs to continue if lawmakers are serious about changing the trajectory of the state's future.

Here is where Illinois stands now: The stack of unpaid bills is about $14.7 billion. The unfunded pension liability is at least $130 billion. One bond rating agency, Moody's, said a downgrade to junk status is still possible for Illinois. An agreement still needs to be reached on how to fund K-12 education for the academic year that starts in about a month. Property taxes are still among the highest in the nation.

A budget did not solve those problems or the many others lurking in the background. It wouldn't take much for Illinois to continue to decline. The real work is just beginning. Success will be realized if that willingness to work together and across the aisle continues at all times, not only during a time of crisis.

We immediately need to see it on school funding reform, but this group of largely rank-and-file members could also take the lead on issues like pension reform, business overhauls and much-needed property tax relief. It would not take many members in either chamber to form a coalition that could be a forceful agent of change. Veto session is the next scheduled time the legislature meets: Committed working groups could develop some solid ideas in the coming months to be considered in the fall.

We challenge lawmakers: Be known for your ability to cooperate and com promise, instead of always toeing the party line.