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The Price of Compromise in Illinois Politics

A budget deal has been reached; Republicans have retreated to fight on another day. And they’re facing wrath for it.

As Springfield has gotten less heated, the rhetoric surrounding has only gotten more so.   Photo: Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune

When I went to Springfield in May, one of the legislators I talked to was Steve Andersson, a Republican rep from the Geneva area. And while he’s supported reform issues pushed by Rauner (and declined his own pension), he weighed the need for them as emphasized by businesses with the need for economic and political stability in the state as another necessity for attracting businesses.

As a result, I wasn’t surprised when he was one of the House Republicans who signed on to the budget bills to give it a slight veto-proof majority. Shortly thereafter, he released a lengthy statement making his case, and it’s worth reading:

Yesterday I voted to create a balanced budget for the State of Illinois for the first time in more than 2 years by voting for SB 6 and 9. In addition to reducing spending by approximately 3 billion dollars, we needed to also increase revenue, which required an income tax increase to slightly lower than what Illinoisans were paying in 2014. I did not want to vote for a tax increase, and like my fellow Illinoisans, I do not want to pay a tax increase. However, it was, at this juncture, the only viable option.

Why? Here are the realities that we faced that led us to this place:

1. If we had not acted, as the bond markets opened today, the State would be downgraded to junk status- the first time for any state in the entire country. “Junk” is more than just a clever name. With a junk rating, most institutions legally cannot buy our bonds. This makes our ability to borrow virtually non-existent which is essential to even keeping minimal state services functioning. Without funding, our universities and community college faced de-accreditation. This would gut our institutions of higher education which not only are commercial drivers in the state, supporting entire communities, but provide education and opportunities keeping our students in Illinois to help build the future of our state. Instead, those students would be uprooted in the middle of their education, and they would have to find alternatives, if that is even possible.

2. The Comptroller advises that starting in July the state’s cashflow will enter a stage where we won’t have enough money to pay our core bills (these include items such as bond interest payments, state employees’ salaries or anything else) because we will only be paying back due bills. In other words, Illinois will have no money at all for expenditures, and being in junk bond status, no ability to borrow. Further, last week a Federal Judge ordered the state to prioritize payment of back due Medicaid payments to the tune of 600 million dollars a month in addition to everything else we are required to pay. It is not an exaggeration to say that there was the very real possibility that the state of Illinois would not be able to survive this added burden.

This is all well-known, and Andersson is straightforward about it. He went on to address the tax hike versus budget cuts:

Some have argued to “hold out” and pass a better designed budget with just budget cuts. This would require cutting as much as 45% of anything that was “cutable”. This means police, fire protection, schools, higher education and social services. The reality is “cuts only” did not have the votes. Without the votes, even the best budget will never become a reality. And in this case those votes simply did not exist and would not exist.

The Illinois Policy Institute has caught a lot of heat for aggressively pursuing anything other than a tax increase of any kind, but to their credit, they proposed a budget that would balance without tax hikes—while including a property-tax freeze—instead of talking around the issue of cuts. It’s here; it’s worth reading. As Daniel Kay Hertz noted, it requires a lot of cuts. Cuts poll well in the abstract, but no specific cuts poll well.

So Andersson concluded that the best thing to do was to stabilize the patient and then do major surgery.

So, we were left with two bad choices and only two bad choices. As your legislator, I was sent here to govern and I had to pick the least bad of the two horrible choices. I chose to save the state first and continue to fight for reforms. The other option was to me unthinkable, irresponsible, and immoral. To allow the state to fail was in my eyes, just not an option. If I allowed that to happen, the resulting damage would spell disaster for our state and be decades in the recovery, if at all.

It’s clear, calm, and concise, without using spin or rhetoric as a crutch.

For it, Natasha Korecki reports, Andersson has received a death threat and “a steady flow of abusive text messages and calls.”

He’s not alone. The Daily Herald’s Marni Pike reported that the House GOP members voting for the budget bills are “jamm[ed] with hate mail”; C.J. Davidsmeyer, who reasoned that a delay would force a tax increase from the 4.95 percent in the bill to 5.5 percent, also got a death threat. Meanwhile, Thursday’s vote was delayed for two hours because a woman allegedly threw a powdered substance in the governor’s office; a hazmat team had to clear the locked-down capitol before the House could take up the veto override.

Illinois now has a budget after 736 days without one, but the state’s woes are far from over: A downgrade to junk-bond status is still a possibility. But a number of GOP legislators have stepped forward and away from the brinkmanship while explaining themselves with the lucidity people say they want from their politicians. Unfortunately, it seems that they’re going to get the worst of the response.

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