The Political Consequences of Illinois Budget Inaction | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

The Political Consequences of Illinois Budget Inaction

There's still no word on when Illinois lawmakers will return to Springfield. The state budget is up in the air for the next fiscal year, which begins in about six weeks. And there just isn't enough lawmaker support for either an income tax hike or severe budget cuts to close an estimated $13 billion deficit. In an election year, neither Democrats nor Republicans want to take the blame for the problem, or pay the price for the solution. So what are the political consequences of doing nothing?

Kevin Blanchard is one of those serious voters. You know them. They want to do "research." They want to see "specifics" from the candidates.

BLANCHARD: We're in trouble. Our state government needs to come up with a concrete plan to basically say, 'Okay. This is how we're going to take care of it, this how we're going to fund it, this is how we're going to pull up that gap.'

Blanchard lives on the South Side of Chicago. The city always goes big for Democrats, but Blanchard is not ready to give Governor Pat Quinn his vote.

BLANCHARD: He could be doing better. You can't put everything off at the last minute. Mama always said, 'You never put anything off for then, what you can do now.'

But some lawmakers of both parties expect nothing more than a band-aid budget to pass before November. Quinn continues to call for an income tax increase. But it didn't have enough support last year, so it's hard believe it would this year - right before an election.

A more likely outcome, I'm told: some cuts, plus borrowing coupled with letting the state's stack of unpaid bills grow even higher - businesses and non-profits and schools owed that money be damned.

Also likely: a circular blame game. Barbara Flynn Currie is the Democratic majority leader in the House.

CURRIE: The Republican Party in Springfield has decided to take a leaf from the playbook of their friends at the federal level. It's hard to work in a cooperative, bipartisan fashion, with people who've decided that their better bet going to the 2010 elections, is just to say, 'No.'

REBOLETTI: I'm not exactly sure how we're obstructionist.

Republican state Representative Dennis Reboletti of Elmhurst represents a competitive district; he won narrowly in 2006 and 2008.

REBOLETTI: The people of Illinois have given the Democratic Party an opportunity to lead, and they haven't done that. They have 70 votes in the House. That's almost a supermajority.

Reboletti says Democrats are ignoring their ideas for budget reforms or spending cuts.

Beth Coulson of Glenview, another House Republican, says Democrats could pay come November for budget inaction. Though she's not convinced all Republican lawmakers will escape unscathed.

COULSON: I do think any incumbent is at risk, because people are mad at everyone. It's not just the people who cause the problem, but it's the people who're also there.

Coulson likely felt some of that wrath herself in February, when she lost a primary election for Congress to a businessman who'd never run for office before.

In the governor's race, Coulson says, this could cut against both major party candidates: Democrat Quinn, the incumbent, and Republican nominee Bill Brady, a longtime state legislator.

Coulson says neither has a clear budget plan.

COULSON: I believe people just want us to get started. I don't think they expect anyone to solve all of it all at once. But if you don't get started with some reforms, I think that people are just going to try to kick all the bums out.

Also, Coulson says, disenchanted voters may not show up at all. Kimberly Hunt of Chicago doesn't see that as an option.

HUNT: I vote. I'm a teacher. I have to set an example for my students. I have to vote.

Hunt teaches at a private school, but is willing to pay more in income taxes to avoid cuts at public schools. On that, she's in agreement with Quinn. But, Mr. Governor, this does not mean you've sewn up her vote.

HUNT: I've always liked him. Thank God he was there for us when we needed him. But I don't know - there's such a machine in Springfield. I don't know if he can overcome that because - boy, I don't know if anyone can. Maybe it's time just to break the whole thing apart and start from scratch.
HUDZIK: Does that mean, vote all the incumbents out?
HUNT: Okay, sounds good to me!

This poses a problem for Hunt, though, because voting out an incumbent means voting for a challenger. And Hunt doesn't see herself voting for Brady.

HUNT: I wish there were a box that said, 'None of the above.' But you can't not show up. You have to vote, so you pick the lesser of two evils.

There will actually be at least three parties on the ballot, something the Green Party candidate for governor, Rich Whitney, is trying hard to point out.

But for incumbents facing tough budget choices in the coming weeks, the big question is this: how do you win over those voters who want nothing more than to pick "None of the above"?

Music Button:  Dave Specter, "Is What It Is", from the CD Live In Chicago, (Delmark)

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