Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) recently vetoed the remainder of the budget bills he received from the state legislature, calling them unconstitutional in part because the state has a debt burden exceeding $100 billion. House Speaker Michael Madigan’s proposed budget was unsustainable and doubled down on failed policies that have been driving businesses and residents out of Illinois.
Rauner’s veto was the compassionate thing to do. The people of Illinois cannot afford a budget with a $4 billion deficit and no reform. This marks the 12th year in a row that the House Speaker and Senate President have passed an unbalanced budget. When will the financial irresponsibility stop?
The governor’s veto represents a bold step toward fiscal responsibility for the state. State elected officials must stop kicking the can down the road and instead work to restore prosperity by getting the state’s fiscal house in order and making its tax climate competitive. The governor’s veto says no to a broken system.
Rauner made his veto announcement in a statement released to the Chicago Tribune, in which he blamed Democrats for giving him a budget $4 billion out of balance. Democrat partisans responded by saying Rauner is moving the state toward a shutdown. Madigan said, “Each day that passes without action by the governor creates unnecessary disruption and anxiety in every region of the state.”
Rauner said in his statement that he had played fair with the Democrat-controlled legislature, highlighting changes he offered to the larger legislative agenda he has pushed, with little success in the state legislature, since taking office.
One concession he cited was his willingness to support a proposal for the state to pick up more of the tab for Chicago teachers’ pensions. The Chicago Public Schools face a massive pension payment due this week. In return, the city would have to give up special grants for other services.
Rauner also said he would support a plan to overhaul Cook County employee pensions and allow Chicago and other downstate communities to implement a slower pension payment schedule to help make the costs easier to manage.
Finally, Rauner said he was willing to compromise on his proposal for a statewide freeze on local property taxes by connecting it to a change in the state school funding formula.
If Rauner continues to oppose Madigan’s bloated budget, legislators will have to start from scratch and craft a document that keeps spending within the limits of a plausible estimate of expected tax revenue while maintaining a competitive and compassionate tax climate. That will require the legislature to make some hard decisions, which has not been their modus operandi in recent decades.
The legislature can’t just raise taxes to cover additional spending, because there is a limit to what the public can bear: People are leaving Illinois in droves in the hope of finding better jobs, better tax climates, and better business opportunities. On top of Illinois’ mass exodus, Moody’s recently downgraded Chicago to junk bond status because of the magnitude of the city’s unfunded pension liabilities. At this point, the only option is to halt the growth of government spending.
It’s up to the state legislature to end the stalemate by passing a spending plan that offers real reform and starts to lighten the load on the state’s taxpayers.