Chicago Sun-Times

STAND­OFF STOP­PER?

THE AC­TION TAKEN THURS­DAY BY THE AT­TOR­NEY GEN­ERAL COULD WIDEN THE CRI­SIS EX­PO­NEN­TIALLY. IT COULD ALSO HELP BRING IT TO AN END.

- MARK BROWN @ MarkBrownC­ST

With all the talk Fri­day from Repub­li­cans about Illi­nois At­tor­ney Gen­eral Lisa Madi­gan “cre­at­ing a cri­sis” in state gov­ern­ment, you might eas­ily for­get the state al­ready is in the midst of a cri­sis not of her mak­ing.

The cri­sis — nearly 19 months old now — has been caused by the fail­ure of the Leg­is­la­ture and Gov. Bruce Rauner to agree on a state bud­get.

This cri­sis has been felt mostly by in­di­vid­u­als who rely on the state for cer­tain so­cial ser­vices and by the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions that pro­vide those ser­vices, as well as by our state col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, slowly bleed­ing to death with­out fund­ing.

While the rest of state gov­ern­ment sur­vives pretty much as nor­mal in the ab­sence of a bud­get through court or­ders and other le­gal pro­vi­sions that pay the bills, these or­phaned func­tions of gov­ern­ment have been forced to suf­fer the con­se­quences of the stand­off be­tween Rauner and Demo­cratic lead­ers.

It’s a very real cri­sis with peo­ple get­ting hurt and long- term dam­age be­ing done to the state’s so­cial safety net and to its higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions — and to the peo­ple who rely on each.

But it’s a handy cri­sis for a Repub­li­can gov­er­nor try­ing to squeeze Demo­cratic leg­is­la­tors be­cause its ef­fects are of less po­lit­i­cal con­se­quence for him than for them.

That’s where Lisa Madi­gan reen­ters the pic­ture.

To be sure, the ac­tion taken Thurs­day by the at­tor­ney gen­eral — going to court in hopes of mak­ing clear that state em­ploy­ees should no longer be paid in the ab­sence of a bud­get — could widen the cri­sis ex­po­nen­tially.

It could also help bring it to an end.

That’s exactly what the Illi­nois Con­sti­tu­tion con­tem­plates with its pro­vi­sion that: “The Gen­eral Assem­bly by law shall make ap­pro­pri­a­tions for all ex­pen­di­tures of pub­lic funds by the State.”

In other words, no ap­pro­pri­a­tion means no ex­pen­di­ture. And no ex­pen­di­ture means no pay for state work­ers. No pays means no work, ex­cept, as fed­eral law tells us, for cer­tain es­sen­tial po­si­tions, mostly in pub­lic safety.

That would shut down most of state gov­ern­ment, which would be an en­tirely dif­fer­ent cri­sis — the kind that might re­mind peo­ple of Newt Gin­grich and Wash­ing­ton grid­lock while dis­rupt­ing the lives of a much larger sec­tion of the pub­lic.

Rauner ob­vi­ously doesn’t want that.

I don’t know of any­body who does, but what some do want is that the threat of that out­come forces the Leg­is­la­ture and the gov­er­nor, any gov­er­nor, to come to terms on a bud­get.

That’s al­ways made sense to me. If any­thing, I ques­tion why the at­tor­ney gen­eral didn’t push this is­sue sooner, which, by the way, is to­tally con­sis­tent with her le­gal de­fense of Rauner’s fail­ure to pay so­cial ser­vice providers.

At this point, it doesn’t mat­ter. This is the right move.

I don’t want to see state work- ers go un­paid. I want the state to come up with a bud­get.

Amid the howls in re­ac­tion to the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s move were com­plaints the added pres­sure could dis­rupt on­go­ing talks by Illi­nois Se­nate lead­ers, who have pro­vided the first glim­mer of hope in a while that a res­o­lu­tion is pos­si­ble.

Sorry, every­one needs to feel that pres­sure.

When Se­nate Pres­i­dent John Culler­ton and Repub­li­can Leader Chris­tine Radogno vis­ited our of­fices a week ago to tout their pro­posed deal, they both made it clear a bud­get needs to be ap­proved now, not months from now.

“Ev­ery day we’re going $ 11 mil­lion deeper into the hole, ev­ery day we don’t solve it,” Radogno said then. “If peo­ple think it’s tough to solve now, and they don’t like the [ tax in­creases], it’s going to be way tougher in two years, and it’s harder now than it would have been two years ago.”

In that light, I don’t see any­thing un­rea­son­able about Madi­gan ask­ing a judge to set a Feb. 28 date for wrap­ping up a bud­get be­fore stop­ping state work­ers pay. The judge could also set a later date.

The im­por­tant point is that we don’t let this con­tinue in­def­i­nitely.

 ??  ?? Illi­nois At­tor­ney Gen­eral Lisa Madi­gan | SUN- TIMES FILES
Illi­nois At­tor­ney Gen­eral Lisa Madi­gan | SUN- TIMES FILES
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