Miller: It won’t be long before trouble returns to the Capitol

Jul 10, 2017

After years of ugly gridlock and weeks of groups and political leaders whipping up an already disgusted populace over a 1.2 percentage point income tax increase, lots of legislators were understandably on edge last week.

Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) tweeted ahead of the votes to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s vetoes of a budget package that it was “hard not to think about the [recent Virginia] congressional shooting showing up to work today.”

And so people were naturally a bit rattled when a woman triggered a more than two-hour delay of those override votes as police and a hazardous materials team frantically combed the Statehouse.

The woman, described by a friend as a “wonderful” person and “beloved” by many, threw some sort of substance at or into a few offices, including the governor’s. A couple of her friends said she might have been attempting to perform a “good luck” ritual.

Depending on your outlook, her possible good luck ritual either worked or failed. We now have a tax increase and a sort of balanced budget and everyone can take a breather for a while. On the other hand, we now have a tax increase and a sort of balanced budget that are fabulously unpopular and will require more work to fix.

Next fiscal year’s budget is really not going to be pretty, but trouble will start even before then. Moody’s has already declared that it could downgrade the state to junk bond status even with the tax hike. If that happens, it will damage the government’s ability to borrow to pay off some of the $15 billion in debt that has been piling up during the two-year impasse.

And even if Illinois isn’t immediately downgraded, the state will hover on the precipice of junk status for the foreseeable future, perhaps for years. There just isn’t enough money on the revenue side of this plan and too much on the spending side to ensure balanced budgets into the future and to pay off that mountain of backlogged bills.

What lawmakers did was fix the state government’s immediate problem. A broader deal would have been preferable, but that obviously wasn’t possible. And there isn’t a person around Rauner who doesn’t believe that he now has a dual political advantage of new state revenues to spend along with his popular opposition to the tax hike.

So, now what? There’s a belief by some that Speaker Madigan has the very thing he has wanted for more than two years: A working bipartisan super-majority to override the governor at will.

But that, I believe, is a misinterpretation of what happened. Madigan didn’t create that super-majority, his members did. If it had been left up to Madigan alone, the tax hike probably would’ve failed. His members were the ones who reached out to their Republican colleagues to negotiate a budget and a tax hike. And when Madigan tried to send them home for a few days, they insisted he keep the House in session and call the votes.

When Republicans started dropping off the roll call last week after taking tremendous heat, Madigan could’ve let the override fail and made Gov. Rauner be forever tagged as “Gov. Junk.” But his members wanted it to pass, so he rounded up more Democratic votes, including a couple of his own targets – something that never happens in that caucus.

Madigan’s members will be hugely important to any further veto overrides, but those breakaway House Republicans will be even more crucial.

And that leads us to the education funding reform bill. As I write this, the Senate has not sent the bill to the governor, who has vowed to veto what he calls a “Chicago bailout.” While that bill helps more truly needy districts in the long run than the governor’s plan, it does contain more money for Chicago Public Schools.

After taking unimaginably heat for voting for a tax hike, it seems doubtful that those same 10 Republicans will then turn around and vote for a “Chicago bailout” that will be portrayed as stealing money from their own students. Without those votes, a veto can’t be overridden.

Both the Democratic and Republican school funding plans require state aid to be distributed via a new formula. No new formula, no school funding. No school funding, lots of schools don’t open after summer vacation. And just like that, we’re in another full-blown crisis.

Maybe that woman could be brought back to the Statehouse for another good luck ceremony – only without the haz-mat teams this time.

Related: Former CPS Chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett will plead guilty to corruption charges
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Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett will plead guilty to charges accusing her of awarding $23 million in no-bid contracts to a former employer in exchange for a job, six-figure signing…

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