“I have an announcement,” Chicago Democrat Barbara Flynn-Currie said the afternoon of May 10 on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives, “perk up your ears. Listen close.”
“Friday session has been cancelled.”
Illinois lawmakers erupted in giddy applause. The video footage is disturbing.
Earlier that day, the House floor used precious time to discuss the upcoming House v. Senate softball game and basketball game. State Rep. Litesa Wallace, D-Rockford, assured House members cheerleaders and pom-poms would be ready.
There has been no state budget for nearly 700 days. And spring session for the House will end May 31. But the state’s legislative leaders don’t seem to care.
While lawmakers are feigning exhaustion in trying to devise a compromise, the facts tell a completely different story.
Put aside the athletics and days off. Just look at the budget-making process itself. They’re playing political football.
The nuts and bolts of the Illinois state budget are supposed to be worked out in appropriation committees. These committees offer a time for lawmakers to discuss tough issues on the record. They offer an opportunity for constituents to weigh in. They are the laboratories from which real budget proposals should emerge.
But they’re not working.
Allocating billions of dollars in state spending is a tough task for a single committee to handle. The House, for example, has five appropriations committees focusing on different parts of the budget.
But only one of them has met at all during the entire month of May.
It’s been more than 20 days since the appropriations committee for general services held a meeting.
And with all the talk Illinoisans have heard from lawmakers about how our state funds public education, the appropriations committee for elementary and secondary education has not held a meeting in nearly 50 days.
During a time of such struggle across the state, this is insulting.
Before the end of Spring session, there will likely be a mad dash to pass a budget. That’s because after May 31, bills will require three-fifths approval from the House and Senate instead of a simple majority.
In other words, the odds Illinois continues without a budget until 2018 increase sharply if nothing passes before the end of May.
But lawmakers have already set themselves up for failure. Perhaps on purpose.
House members can’t honestly analyze a budget when they haven’t attended an appropriations committee hearing on some major budget items for over a month.
But who cares about the House? The Senate is where all the action is, right?
For now, yes. But if past is prologue, the “Grand Bargain” negotiations are nothing but a political ploy for Senate President John Cullerton to avoid taking blame.