Thursday, October 15, 2009

Will activist pleas fall on deaf ears?

It’s going to be a common sight for the next few days at the Statehouse in Springpatch – various groups are going to send people to the Capitol in hopes of rallying in the rotunda (to the left) and urging the General Assembly to get off its collective rump and approve a long-term (as in the full fiscal year) solution to the state budget.

For you may remember when the Illinois Legislature finally approved a spending plan that averted the possibility of a state government shutdown due to the lack of a budget in place, they only approved a plan that takes us through the end of Calendar Year 2009.

THE CURRENT FISCAL year runs through June 30, which means come January we’ll be right back in the same place we were in back in July – only worse because a significant portion of the state’s revenue for the fiscal year will have been spent.

The reason nothing happened?

It all comes down to political people who are so fearful of Election Day and being labeled as some sort of tax hog by certain elements of our society.

For it was Gov. Pat Quinn who wanted the political people to just break down and accept the fact that some sort of income tax increase was essential to ensuring that state government would have sufficient revenue to perform all its functions for the fiscal year.

BUT LEGISLATORS KNEW there would be some people willing to play politics with any such vote and try to turn it into an issue to use against them.

So they preferred to do nothing.

It is with the idea of persuading the Legislature to now do something that a group calling itself the Responsible Budget Coalition plans to have hundreds of people show up at the Statehouse on Thursday – all in hopes of persuading legislators to do what they didn’t want to do back in July.

Come up with some more revenue, which sadly enough is essential because the cost of things does go up. That is regardless of whether one wants to pay it. With costs going up, the income also has to increase.

AND AS FOR those people who will argue that government should somehow operate more like a business, I’d argue that viewpoint is ridiculous. A government performs functions that must take place, whereas in the overall scheme of things, a business can cease to exist.

In short, the Legislature is paying too much attention to people with an ideological axe who would like to take it to those government programs they have disagreements with.

In fact, I can already hear those people get their responses ready that the groups preparing to show up at the Statehouse are merely ideological tools themselves – ones whose opinions should be disregarded.

If there were legislators who were afraid of ticking people off on a future Election Day back in July, just imagine how angry they will be now.

IF THE LEGISLATURE had acted back in July to resolve this problem, there’s a good chance that the masses would have forgotten many of the specifics and wouldn’t have continued to give it much thought.

But now, the Legislature is only three-plus months away from that Feb. 2 primary. There’s a better chance that doing the right thing now will be remembered more vividly.

And if the Legislature doesn’t act in their fall veto session, they would be forced to confront this issue in January – which means literally in the weeks before the primary election.

That is when people are paying attention and would remember every little detail.

IT IS BECAUSE of this time factor that I think these groups will be speaking on deaf ears in the Legislature. The individual lawmakers will want to get in and out of Springfield this fall while doing as little as they possibly have to.

Thinking that they have a serious chance to urge the Legislature to act may be somewhat naïve.

In fact, the most honest thing I have heard in recent days came from the mouth of a community center organizer in Chicago who will be part of a group representing the Chicago Area Project – a group that distributes state funding to neighborhood groups.

That organization experienced significant cuts in its own funding that are now trickling down to less money for community groups, and they have hopes of getting into the office of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, when they visit Springfield next week.

WHAT IS HONEST about that? She concedes that her group likely will have little luck getting that meeting with the Speaker.

“You don’t just walk into Mike Madigan’s office and demand his time,” she told me, adding she expects she and her colleagues will have to settle for one of Madigan’s top-ranking colleagues, state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie.

If that’s the case, I can envision Lang having a very busy veto session – having to tell everybody “no” while his boss hides away in his Statehouse office.


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