Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 12:20 am
Back to square one
Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget address last week seemed far more designed for people outside the building, most of whom don’t really care about the intricacies of government finance. Most do, however, want to see everyone finally get along and end this 8-month governmental impasse, despite what you may read in online comment sections.
That’s probably why Rauner barely even talked about the budget. It’s no surprise why. For the first time since Illinois became a state in 1818 a governor has submitted a budget for the next fiscal year without having passed a budget for the current fiscal year.
The failure is not just an embarrassment. Tens of thousands of the most vulnerable Illinoisans are paying dearly. No budget means the state can’t help homeless teens, assist women with the trauma of a brutal rape or help addicts kick heroin.
Tens of thousands more may have to drop out of college because state universities and a special scholarship program aren’t being funded. The majority African-American Chicago State University is perilously close to shutting down as are Western Illinois University and Eastern Illinois University.
Even Rauner’s lines that some described as an “olive branch” to the Democratic legislative majority seemed aimed more at the folks back home.
Why? Well, words, even very kind words, are not going to be enough to get this done. The sides are simply too far apart, and now that election season has cranked up again, I’m not sure how this thing is going to be resolved.
The governor wants Democrats to help him undermine their labor union allies before he’ll cut a budget deal. But he’s got tens of millions of dollars in campaign bank accounts which are already being unleashed on Democrats. They won’t unilaterally disarm themselves in the face of a threat like that.
House Speaker Michael Madigan is one of those Democrats with a well-funded primary opponent. Despite adamant denials from the governor and the opponent himself, Madigan firmly believes that Rauner put the guy into the race.
So, after Rauner concluded his budget address and turned to shake Madigan’s hand, Madigan leaned in and sarcastically cracked, “Thanks for the candidate.”
This was the second time that Madigan “thanked” the governor for his opponent. The first time was immediately after January’s State of the State Address. A noisy House chamber meant Rauner didn’t understand what Madigan said, thinking he made some comment about state Rep. Jack Franks. But the message came through loud and clear last week.
Some people think that if we could just get rid of Mike Madigan then the governor would have a free hand to solve all the state’s problems.
But that’s just not the reality. Almost all rank-and-file Democratic legislators are adamant about opposing Rauner.
Hours after his budget address, Rauner attended the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ annual dinner event. The governor chatted with folks and was then unexpectedly asked to speak. Rauner relied on his usual stump speech that he gives at black churches, saying “The Good Lord didn’t make us Democrats and Republicans, the Good Lord put us on Earth to do His work.” He talked about how he wanted to work with everyone in the room. But then he laid an egg.
“My agenda, my goal aligns exactly with the interests of the African-American community,” Rauner declared. “But we’ve got a broken politics in Illinois and around America where African-Americans primarily vote Democrat and as a result Democratic leaders can pretty much ignore the interests of the African-American community because they have the votes all locked up anyway.”
Um, most people at the dinner were Democratic leaders, and most of them were also African-Americans. His remarks were taken as a direct insult by many in attendance.
Rauner’s comments were from an often-used GOP playbook. And I don’t think he had ill intentions because he also said, “Republicans don’t want to listen to African-American concerns because they never get their votes. That is wrong. We should change that. We should work together in the common interests.”
I don’t know if many people heard that, but they did applaud when Rauner said he wanted to spend more money on education “so it goes disproportionately to low income schools.”
What he didn’t say, but what everyone in the room knew, is that he will only agree to do this after Democrats help him gut the power of organized labor.
And that brings us back to square one.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.