Saturday, April 25, 2015

How ugly will the legislative battle be?

I’m a fairly regular reader of the Capitol Fax website who got my chuckle Friday from their “Question of the Day.”

“Which happens first?” As in the release of former state Rep. Derrick Smith from the West Side; or the agreement by Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly on a budget for state government for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

WHAT’S FUNNY ABOUT that is the fact that Smith is the legislator who earlier this week was sentenced to five months in prison on federal charges he accepted bribes.

Under the federal system, he’ll have to do 85 percent of that time. With five months, that means four-and-a-half months of real time served. He’ll get just a couple of weeks off for good behavior.

That means he’ll be a free man sometime in September. Probably right after Labor Day he will have paid his debt to society, and we can go back to forgetting we ever knew who he was (his stint in Springfield before getting caught in a criminal investigation really was that short).

But the partisan political differences between Gov. Bruce Rauner (the man who is supposedly liked by 40 percent of the electorate and disliked by 36 percent – with the remainder clueless about what to think) and the Democratic-leaning state Legislature are so large that it is likely Smith will be free and there still won’t be a budget in place.

EVEN THOUGH THE General Assembly is expected under usual procedure to approve a state budget for the upcoming year before their spring session ends at the end of May.

Remember that one year when Rod Blagojevich was governor when the differences of opinion (that’s putting it mildly) between he and the Legislature were so great that the matter didn’t get settled finally until about early December?

That could wind up looking like a tea party by comparison to what could happen if both Rauner and the Legislature’s leadership remain as pig-headed as they are capable of being.

I remember back to 1991 when the budget didn’t get approved until the early hour of July 19 and people thought that was some sort of record moment that would never again be achieved.

UNTIL IN FUTURE years when it kept taking until early July to settle a spending plan for state government. All of this was basically about then-Gov. Jim Edgar and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, showing who could go longest without blinking.

Personally, I get the sense that Rauner has so many ideological points he wants to score that he’s willing to remain stubborn on budget issues, which are serious because of the fact that the budget approved last year really made no sense unless you presumed the General Assembly would come back later in the year and approve the extension of the state income tax hike that started withering away at year’s end.

We still have those pension funding issues. We have a governor who seems to think he can merely force his views upon the public (which may be why nearly half of all those who have an opinion disapprove of him).

And, quite frankly, we have a House speaker with a veto-proof majority who’s more than willing to make an effort to let the new governor who the real boss is of Illinois government.

I HAVE READ my share of gags on the Internet about how Smith may wind up being released from prison and somehow get himself back into the Statehouse just in time to vote on the final budget proposal.

Although I think it more likely Smith will wind up spending the summer months at a minimum-security prison facility serving his sentence, reading the news and shaking his head with contempt at the knuckleheads in Springfield who are letting this budget mess drag on and on.


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