Illinois has gone without a budget longer than any state since the Great Depression.
That would be the one in 1929. Not the Bush Depression of 2008.
When corporate billionaire Bruce Rauner took office promising to shake up Springfield he presented a list of 44 demands, most aimed at working families, in exchange for his signature on a budget.
The Democrats in Springfield, most of whom owe their seats to union and working family voters, said no.
Some would like to blame both sides for the budget stand-off.
Not me. Long-time readers know that I am no fan of Michael Madigan or Springfield Democrats. In fact, when we had a Democratic Governor in the shape of Pat Quinn, everybody was a bit too cozy and collaborative, especially when it came to cutting pensions.
But this is all on Rauner.
Rauner spent $50 million on this last election trying to blame others for this budget debacle and the campaign was a massive failure.
In response there are now reports are that Governor Rauner has reduced his Turnaround Agenda from 44 to five.
The five, Rauner says, include workman’s comp reform, cutting property taxes, the school funding formula and – wait for it – pension reform.
He says he is willing to even give in on a few of the five. Want to bet which one he wants to keep?
You recall that the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that state employee pensions were covered by the pension protection clause of the Illinois constitution. The clause states that contractual pensions may not be diminished or impaired.
For current retirees like me this is an ironclad promise and obligation, said the court.
But there is a small loop hole when it comes to current employees. Contract law allows for changes in an agreement as long as there is consideration given. If there is a change in the agreement, employees must be given something of equal or greater value in return. And it may be bargained.
Democratic Senate President John Cullerton and the Governor believe that this is the opening they need.
As my colleague Glen Brown wrote in a recent exchange between the two of us, cross posted on both of our blogs:
Nevertheless, there will be another attempt, not long after the election, for a “modification of contract principles.” Any attempt at modifications of the Pension Protection Clause by the Illinois General Assembly should be seen for what it is: another challenge by the current General Assembly and governor to steal money from the public pension systems so they can avoid addressing the real causes of the state’s budget deficits: the pension ramp, the resultant pension debt, and the state’s insufficient flow of revenue.
I have written many times: contracts supported by consideration are often one-sided, advantageous arrangements, especially a consideration from the Illinois General Assembly that would be in exchange for reductions of originally-vested benefits assured by the Illinois Constitution.
It appears that what the Governor has done is to reduce his demands from 44 to five. But there is really just one.
He can’t touch retirees.
I believe that any deal to cut the pension guarantees of current employees will face the same legal result as the last attempt.
Illinois has had nearly two years without a state budget because Rauner believes he was put on this earth to cut pensions.
Been there. Couldn’t do that.