Budget described as another possible dead body to mourn
It's hard to tell the difference between a seated Illinois General Assembly and one that's on a break, WCIA Capitol Bureau Chief Mark Maxwell said in a recent segment focused on a lack of new bills, characterizing the legislative accomplishments of the 100th General Assembly as “hardly anything at all."
“It’s not technically a do-nothing Statehouse, but it’s practically a do-nothing-of-consequence Statehouse,” Maxwell, who covers Springfield for the Champaign television outlet, said. “This General Assembly under the leadership of Democrats like Michael Madigan and John Cullerton have literally produced no significant bills of action, sending them to the governor's desk, in four months.”
Madigan is the speaker of the House; Cullerton is Senate president.
The state is facing a significant financial crisis, making the General Assembly’s inability to pass legislation an even greater problem than it would be in other circumstances. Illinois has not had a permanent budget in place for more than 20 months and has a deadline of May to pass one for this fiscal year.
The Democratic majority and Republican minority, along with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, have been unable to determine what that budget should look like, with Democrats pushing for higher taxes to increase revenue and Republicans demanding reform to reduce spending.
“In fact, the thing this body seems to do best is mourn the dead,” Maxwell said. “Believe it or not, lawmakers often pay respects to deceased members of their home districts. They’ve done that 368 times so far this year – far more than any actual bills signed into law. They also recognized, congratulated or designated 519 people, places or things, like a bowl of chili in Taylorville or cycling as the state exercise.”
The General Assembly’s lack of productivity has had real-world impacts on Illinoisans, with many publicly funded services and institutions unable to operate without full funding. In his segment, Maxwell interviewed Aaron Stewart, a Chicago resident who was touring the empty Statehouse.
“Everything is being affected by a lack of progression, a lack of urgency in regards to passing certain legislations to get the bills paid,” Stewart said.
Maxwell pointed out that there is evidence the two parties can work together.
“The assembly did pass one bill to the governor’s desk,” Maxwell said. “It was designed to tie his hands, to keep him from outsourcing nurse jobs to a private contractor in prisons. That bill went from the floor to the governor’s desk in just nine days time, showing that when this body wants to act, it can.”
Illinois has a budget deficit of $6 billion and millions of dollars in unpaid bills. While the Illinois House appears to have given up on a bipartisan budget agreement, with Democrats in that chamber passing a partisan measure for another stopgap budget, the Senate was working on a “grand bargain” budget, but it appeared to fizzle out before the break.
“They return to session with less than six weeks on the clock before the session is all done,” Maxwell said “It’s about the same time school will let out, and with K-12 and higher education schools left wondering about their funding, and state contractors and vendors left hung out to dry with many unpaid bills, there’s a lot of work to do and only a little time left to do it.”
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