Friday, June 16, 2017

Legislature to return to Statehouse, but just what will they do with themselves?

It’s becoming that time of year again when politically observant people get themselves all worked up over the concept of per diem.

As in the living expenses that the state pays its state legislators to cover the cost of them getting a hotel room or renting an apartment so they have some place to live while they are in Springfield doing “the peoples’ business.”

GOV. BRUCE RAUNER wants to put up the appearance of state officials working eagerly to try to reach a budget agreement for state government.

Meaning he said Thursday he’s calling them into a special session of the Legislature. To begin June 21, it would continue every day until the legislators approve a budget plan that can be sent to Rauner for his consideration -- or June 30, the end of the fiscal year (whichever comes first).

News reports about the move go out of their way to include a mention of the per diem payment – which these days totals $111 per day, plus a $0.39 per mile rate for gas mileage reimbursement.

It comes to roughly $40,000 per day, and the tone usually comes across as if THIS is the expense that is going to bust Illinois financially.

NOW BEFORE I go further, I have to confess – I have written the same stories; some two decades ago back when I was a Statehouse reporter-type person. It's not a new theme and it’s easy to calculate. The numbers are small so a reporter-doing-math can’t screw it up, and it gives an overtone of outrage!

Money being wasted as the legislators sit around doing nothing while the governor and legislative leaders continue to quarrel – as most of them have settled into stances by which they need to have the financial stalemate linger on indefinitely.

This really is a situation that will not be resolved until after the November 2018 election cycle where there might be a shift in the political dynamic of Illinois with its Democratic-run Legislature and Republican-run executive branch at loggerheads.

And if there ISN’T a shift, the stalemate has the potential to linger on for years to come. Pretty scary stuff, when you think about it! Although I suspect it will take an action such as the Mega Millions and Powerball lottery games saying they will no longer let Illinois participate in those prizes to catch the attention of the public.

THE REALITY IS that $40,000 is petty change. And the reason the legislators being present doesn’t really mean a lot is because this is a problem caused by the leadership being unable, or unwilling, to budge.

So Rauner can go ahead and call the General Assembly back to duty in Springfield and have them sit around. Unless he is willing to budge on his budgetary stance, nothing will change and it really will be $40,000 or so a day flushed down the toilet bowl of government.

So what is it state officials could contemplate if, and when, they return to Springfield?

There is that budget the Illinois Senate approved, but that the Illinois House of Representatives won’t even consider because they know in their hearts and minds that Rauner will play partisan politics in rejecting.

EARLIER THIS WEEK, Republicans from the Senate AND House offered up their own “seven point plan” that they say is a budget proposal they would be ready to approve and Rauner would sign into law IF ONLY those Democrats would get with the program.

Which has me wondering if a special session is meant to put pressure on Dem legislators to go along so as to put an end to the nearly two years this state has gone without a balanced budget in place. In the end, it’s really about pols trying to make sure the other guy gets the blame for the two years of inactivity we’ve had in Illinois.

This is a big deal because state law doesn’t really allow state government to operate without a budget. It’s only because of the federal courts that some agencies and programs continue to operate, and are spending up a disproportionate share of the funds while others are withering away.

We need to have that written budget dictating how money is spent. Would you really trust your government to have access to taxpayer monies without it? They’d be like the kid who blew their allowance money on candy, then complains they’re broke. Just like some of us will obsess about the per diem while the rest of Illinois burns.


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