Quick Hits – It ain’t capitulation!

My good friend, and a stellar member of my crack legal team (it takes much more than a village when it comes to Jeff Ward), Jeff Meyer, lamented the impending Illinois budget/tax hike as “capitulation” during our most recent conversation. And while I certainly understand his thought process, I fervently believe that’s not the case.

Please let me be perfectly clear that when I said “lament,” that really is the correct word, because, unlike the plethora of conservatives who demanded a property tax freeze, balanced budget, term limits and even more right out of the gate, Jeff understands that cuts alone could not save us from the current Illinois fiscal quicksand.

You can bitch about where we are and how we got here to your heart’s content, but it ain’t gonna change a goddam thing.

Because he has at least a half a brain, Jeff was far more concerned with what motivated those 15 Republicans to break ranks with the Governor than he was with pointing fingers.

Meanwhile, my response to that conservative plethora, the folks who can’t even spell the word “compromise” is, I’d like a 68 Dodge Charger, the winning Powerball ticket and a 22 year-old female French exchange stu… (let’s omit that third one), but none of that’s going to happen today, either.

It’s the Governor’s insistence on getting everything “right now” that put him in the position of getting nothing at all.


To make matters so much worse, the Republican/conservative refusal to take any responsibility for the state of the State is terrifying and beyond baffling. I’m gonna say it again, the Madigan phenomenon did not happen overnight. It took 30 years and a lot of Republican complicity for the Speaker to wield this much power.

To wit, please read today’s Phil Kadner Sun-Times column!

And a great part of that GOP complicity was, while you all were busy hanging your hats on soon-to-be moot social issues like same-sex marriage, abortion and gun control, the Speaker was developing the kind of electoral ground game that the Illinois Republican Party can’t begin to compete with.

As a result, not only does the GOP fail to regularly win elections in a virtually bankrupt state, but the constant conservative I-want-my-cookie-now temper tantrums makes the situation so much worse.

Really? We should let the utterly immature Bruce Rauner take the State to junk bond status, because, like Nero, it would be better to watch Illinois burn than it would be that to begin to apply the long-term fix our state so desperately requires?

Do you know what junk bond status means? It means the institutions who can afford to buy our debt won’t be able to, which means issuing bonds would be kinda pointless, and then we truly won’t be able to pay our bills. Who needs state universities anyway, right? C’mon! I don’t want a tax hike either, but this budget does contain $3 billion in cuts.

It’s a start.

I’m also going to keep repeating the irony that Springfield taxation pales in comparison to what kind of havoc our local county, village and particularly school boards regularly wreak upon us. With rare exception, those spendthrift collar county school boards are 100 percent Republican.

But despite that all-too-obvious fact, conservatives want to blame the Democrats while failing to apply that fiscal standard across the board because it makes them feel better. So, my answer to all their insistent whining will always be, “When’s the last time you attended a school board meeting?”

Another irony is that Rauner could’ve wrung the kind of concessions out of the Speaker that no Republican governor has ever been able to. But instead of aiming for the possible, his vast ego made it an all-or-nothing proposition, with “nothing” being the outright and irrevocable destruction of Illinois as a functioning fiscal entity.

I’ve asked at least 30 conservatives to prove we could dig our way out of this budget mess by cuts alone, and not one – not even 66th District State Rep Allen Skillicorn – could show me the math.

What Governor Rauner was trying to do was the equivalent of winning the first baseball game of the season, and then, immediately turning to the Commissioner and saying, “Alright Mr. Manfred, we’re ready for the World Series!”

But that’s not the way it works. You have to win up to two-thirds of your games over the slog of a 162 game season in which you’ll lose one-third of your games no matter what you do. And even if you manage to do that, you can still get picked off by a wildcard team that got hot and squeaked into the playoffs at the last minute.

Given their abject failure to learn anything from experience, the eminently ironic conservative immaturity continues. Now they want to throw folks like State Rep Steve Andersson under the primary bus because their delicate middle-school sensibilities have been offended. But Steve is exactly the kind of elected official who ACTUALLY CAN instill some conservative fiscal ideals in the state capital over the long term.

When the children refuse to behave by insisting on going for broke, it’s incumbent on the adults in the room to intervene. So, we were just saved by a group of brave Republicans, who put us and the State, before themselves, the party and their jobs. And God bless each one of ‘em for it. With some of the stupidity finally out of the way, let’s get down to the real, long-term business of undoing all of that Madigan damage.

But sadly, considering the current conservative mindset, I’m thinking that last statement is nothing more than wishful thinking. Apparently, I really do need to repeat the wisdom of the late, great cartoonist Walt Kelly, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!”

9 thoughts on “Quick Hits – It ain’t capitulation!

  1. Interesting rant. But, Nothing has been solved. The State has just kicked the can down the road….which is how the state ended up in this situation.
    So we are going to experience a long slow economic decline instead of confronting the reality of our economic situation now, even if that meant junk status for awhile. I guess I would rather BE BRAVE rip the band-aid off all at once.

    Not sure I see any road to any reform in Illinois.

    • I’ve gotta believe that this is just the first step as part of a greater deal. And if real reforms don’t come out of this deal down the road, I’ll be right there to point it out.

      The bottom line is, Governor Rauner went for broke and that rarely, if ever, works in politics.

      • I appreciate your optimism, but there is no motivation to change the status quo without a deadline. I think you are being naive now. So, I look forward to your future columns.

  2. Bravo Jeff. I agree 100%. Those who feel going into “Junk Status” for awhile isn’t so bad doesn’t understand the catastrophic damage that would cascade down to K-12 Schools, Universities, Prisons, State Police, Nursing Homes, and Hospitals (to name a few). I applaud those Senators & Legislators who voted for a budget – Republican & Democrat alike. That is, so long as they finish the job tomorrow.

  3. Steve Andersson has a firm grasp of the situation and has my 100% support on his decision to move the budget discussions forward.

  4. Given the reality that Speaker Madigan and his caucus can’t be worked around, I agree that “cuts alone” can’t solve the problem today. Revenue growth has to be part of the equation if an agreement with the Speaker is to be made. That does not mean that a 1.2% marginal rate hike was needed or is good public policy. Things like a property tax levy freeze, term limits, workers comp. reform, elimination of the COLA for public pension retirees, putting new State workers into a 401(k), etc. would have individually, and collectively, helped the State attract/retain workers and businesses. Those type of reforms are likely to generate the type of organic tax revenue growth that obviates the need for a 1.2% permanent marginal tax rate hike to balance a budget over time (even one that has the tentative budget deal’s level of bloated spending). Reforms like those listed above should have been part of the conversation. If a marginal rate hike is part of the budget deal, then so should have at least some of those reforms in addition to the nominal spending cuts. Including structural and procedural reforms would be a compromise. Excluding ANY of those items is capitulation. I believe that some of the members who voted for the spending bill and tax hike, like Steve Andersson, shared my sentiment, and I want to understand why they voted the way they did. There has to be more to this. (at least I hope…) Perhaps Steve, Bob Pritchard, or Mike Fortner can enlighten us. They should be given the chance to do so before we cast final judgment.

  5. increasing the budget (raising our taxes) while continuing with rampant spending is a lose-lose situation. Andersson should be ashamed of himself, it’s time for him to go away

  6. Jeff

    Great article, you have a way of identifying the right issues, even if many times I don’t agree with your solutions. This is one of those times. I agree with some not all. I would like to cover them one by one:
    1. The game playing in Springfield is unacceptable. What has happened over the last 40 years is outrageous. I agree that all parties need to take blame for the mess we are in. Republicans haven’t been guilt free, former Governor George Ryan just to name one. More State Representatives and Senators should be behind bars. If an average Joe did half the things they did they would be “up the river with a paddle.” Over the last 20 years that I have been an Illinois resident, Madigan has been the major problem. There is no compromise with him and there never has been. The short term answer is term limits.
    2. After two years with no budget, nothing major has changed. Where are the reforms? I agree that everything isn’t going to change with one bite but there needs to be some reduction in spending. Where exactly is the supposed three billion in cuts. I bet must Reps and Senators don’t know because they personally have not read the entire budget plan. They also don’t know what “pork” was added. They don’t know because not all spending is clearly laid out in the budget. These “local spending programs” are not individually identified.
    3. Maybe if true cuts and a .5% tax increase would be easier to shallow. That would have been true compromise for both sides. It didn’t take me two years to come up with that idea. The problem is that neither side accepts true compromise because they both have to win. The point that Gov. Rauner is not a career insider didn’t help. Yes there needed to be starting point for recovery, but a 1.5% tax increase isn’t the answer. Both spending and debt will both continue to increase with this budget. You agree with Rep. Andersson’s decision, I don’t and have told him so
    4. The last point is the most important! How many non-school employees have attended a school board meeting in the last three years, four years or five years? I bet the answer is no more than .005%. Most know of my reputation with the Geneva School Board over the last 11 years. Did I make mistakes in my approach, certainly? Was I correct on the issues the majority of time, certainly? Was the school board wrong in some of their discussions, certainly? A “working behind the scenes” approach would not have worked either. When the vast majority of votes on major issues, with no public discussion, is 7-0 or 6-1 nothing is going to change.
    The bigger point is the residents MUST attend meetings to understand what is happening. Just complaining about your taxes is ridiculous. The idea of Geneva schools closing before the end of the next school year is not true. They will collect enough in taxes and have reserves to operate for at least the next 18 months. But they do need to cut wasteful spending, which up to now they have refused to do. They don’t cut because there is no real public input. Writing an e-mail saying what a great job they do or only focusing on your own child’s needs is the wrong method. They need to look residents eye to eye across the table and discuss major issues in public. The public then needs to comment at the meeting with the school board actually listening them.

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