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Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011 11:03 am

Quinn’s doomsday game gets old


I began to reminisce during Gov. Pat Quinn’s Chicago press conference last week. Quinn had called the media together to announce he was closing seven state facilities and laying off almost 2,000 state employees because the General Assembly had passed an inadequate budget.

Wait, I thought, haven’t I already seen this movie?

Back in May of 2009, Gov. Pat Quinn warned that if the General Assembly didn’t pass his proposed income tax increase within two weeks he’d have to implement a “doomsday budget” and lay off over 14,000 teachers, cancel preschool for 100,000 children, cut 400,000 students off of college aid, kick 650,000 people off of health care rolls, eliminate all funding for public transit, slash a billion dollars to local governments, lay off 1,000 state troopers and release 6,000 inmates from prison early.

Two months later, Quinn threatened to lay off 2,600 state workers because the legislature’s budget was inadequate.

Two weeks after that, Quinn had pared down the total threatened cuts to a billion dollars, including $225 million for college student aid, and said there was no way the government could operate through the end of the fiscal year without a tax hike.

Almost none of that happened, even though Quinn didn’t get his tax hike until almost two years later.

But, come the following spring, Quinn was back with the same playbook. Quinn said he’d have to cut education by $1.3 billion if a tax hike wasn’t approved.

That didn’t happen, either.

This year, Quinn repeatedly threatened huge cuts to human service providers, then somehow found the money to prevent the tragedy. He also warned in late spring that the bipartisan budget being prepared in the Illinois House was full of “radical” cuts and repeatedly vowed to stop it, then signed the bill into law.

And then last week he once again blamed the General Assembly for forcing him to close those facilities and lay off those state employees – all in order to save a paltry $55 million.

Quinn’s playbook is, by now, pretty darned clear: Blame the General Assembly for causing Armageddon, announce horrifically draconian countermeasures, then eventually find a way to somehow prevent the pending disaster.

He’s like an arsonist firefighter. And, frankly, this is really starting to get old, and it’s more than a little disturbing.

Can the governor comprehend what even the threat of a facility closure does to a small Downstate town? Fear spreads like wildfire. People immediately stop spending money. The local economy instantly shuts down.

Yet just about everything Quinn has done since the end of the spring session has been aimed directly at Downstate.

His reduction veto of the Medicaid budget spared inner-city hospitals. His vetoes of $100 million in school transportation funding and regional superintendents operations left Cook County virtually untouched. Last week’s layoff and closure announcement included just one Chicago-area facility. Every other state facility on his list was in a Downstate Senate Republican district.

“Let me know when ‘Good Pat” rides in on his white horse, wouldya?” cracked an otherwise quite worried state Sen. Tim Bivins (R-Dixon) last week. The Mabley Developmental Center is in Bivins’ district and it’s on Quinn’s closure list. Bivins’ wisecrack referred to a recent Sun-Times column of mine about how “Bad Pat” will deliberately create a crisis so that “Good Pat” can swoop in and solve it.

Yes, there is a budget problem. I get it. I’ve written about it many times. Anyone who doesn’t get it is a fool. But if the governor had done the hard work of governing, rather than just hold a splashy Chicago press conference announcing the end of the world, all of this could have been prevented.

Quinn’s budget staff met with legislative staff a few times over the past several days to lay out the situation. Trouble is, the Quinnsters had a different explanation for how much money they needed to free up at every meeting. A memo handed out to staff late last month, for instance, had the budget hole at $180 million, which is a far cry from last week’s claim of a $313 million hole. It’s no wonder that the House Democrats have said they aren’t willing to adjust their revenue estimates to help Quinn out.

People’s lives are not fun little Chicago press conference games, governor. And you’ve been messing with those lives almost from the moment since you were elevated to your position. Grow the heck up, man.  

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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