Monday, Jun. 30 2008
The mentally ill in Illinois will get less care. Amtrak service between Chicago
and St. Louis might be cut back. Fewer people will be tested for the AIDS
virus. Dispaced workers who need job training won't get it. The public schools
will get less money than they were expecting.
Those are among the consequences of budget cuts announced last week by Gov. Rod
In an amazing abdication of responsibility, the Illinois General Assembly last
month passed a budget that was $2 billion out of balance, and lawmakers knew
it. In effect, they handed the mess to Mr. Blagojevich with the message: "Here.
You cut it."
And so he did.
This probably is what the budget will be, which is regrettable. The governor
wants state legislators to reconvene and raise new money. But his arch-nemesis,
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, shows no sign of cooperating.
In fact, it was Mr. Madigan who set up Mr. Blagojevich to be the fall guy, the
one who had to say "no" to school teachers, transit commuters and just about
Throughout his five and a half years in office, Mr. Blagojevich has
demonstrated an unsettling willingness to spend now and worry about the bill
later. That explains part of the bitter, Democrat-on-Democrat feud between him
and Mr. Madigan, a fiscal conservative.
But in this case, Mr. Blagojevich is behaving responsibly. He could have signed
an unbalanced budget, but that, he said, would have been "lying to the people
of Illinois. It would be like writing a check that I know would bounce."
He also could have vetoed the entire budget, which would have forced the
lawmakers back into session. But that would have set up a repeat of last year's
summer-long stalemate that nearly shut down state government. So Mr.
Blagojevich got out his knife.
The governor's cut list is bound to upset interest groups, and that's his
intention. "He wants to paint Madigan as the bad guy, so he's offering up
politically sensitive things," says Ralph Martire of the watchdog Illinois
Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. For example, he said, Mr.
Blagojevich's cuts in the state subsidy for Amtrak are "a purely political
In the end, Mr. Martire thinks the governor might change the list to ease the
In fact, there's a less painful fix for about a quarter of the $2 billion gap,
although it would require legislative approval. The state has $530 million
sitting unused in "special purpose" accounts, such as the "Dram Shop Fund" and
the "Agriculture Premium Fund." It's foolish to cut schools and social services
with that money just sitting there.
This latest depressing development is a symptom of a larger problem. Illinois
state government is in gridlock, and it's an all-Democrat dysfunction. The
personal animosity between the governor and Mr. Madigan stands in the way of
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors are circling the Blagojevich administration,
zeroing in on pay-for-play in hiring and contract awards. And Mr. Madigan, who
chairs the state Democratic Party, is planting the idea that the Democratic
governor should be impeached. Illinois Republicans can sit back and let
Democrats play the party in power and the opposition.
Illinois needs a balanced budget and a plan for fixing its roads, bridges and
water systems. It must fund its monstrous $42 billion pension debt. Ultimately,
the only way to fix this is through a general tax increase.
The Blagojevich-Madigan feud is thwarting progress. Democratic office holders
should lean hard on their leaders to start governing before voters give them
all the boot.