Doubek vs. Dietrich On Illinois House Democrats' Budget Bill

MADELEINE DOUBEK: Hey, Matt, so it looks like the brilliant, masterful House Speaker Mike Madigan has decided to throw the bipartisan working budget groups to the wind and is preparing to have his supermajority Democratic caucus vote for a budget that spends more than $7 billion more than the state is projected to take in in a fiscal year.

This will be, what, the fourth time since we launched Reboot Illinois that the Democratic majority has passed an unbalanced budget, a blatantly unbalanced one. They're not even pretending it's balanced and this time it's out-of-whack in historic proportion. What do you suppose Speaker "Velvet Hammer" is thinking?

MATT DIETRICH: Hi Madeleine. I'd love to answer your question but at the moment I'm being bombarded by emails from the governor's office and the Illinois Republican Party. Based on what I'm reading here, it looks like Mr. Speaker is thinking he wants to pass "the phoniest of all phony budgets" so he can "crush Illinois families and lead to more people and businesses leaving the state." Sounds like he's all hammer and no velvet these days.

MADELEINE: Well, actually, Matt, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno came up with a new moniker for Madigan. She's calling him the "Cheshire Cat." So, Speaker Cheshire Cat said he told the governor he and his "agents" were not being persuasive in their working groups and he was going to be running an appropriations bill.

The spending bill would blow $7 billion more than we have AND it would not include several agencies being funded at higher levels because of court orders. I guess after that fist-pumping performance at the massive AFSCME rally that he thinks he's the savior to union members and human service agencies everywhere. And boy our entire school system and human service workers everywhere need help fast. The master tactician Speaker thinks he can do this, send members home for the summer and fall campaign and keep his majority. You think it'll work?

MATT: Ah, Madeleine. You evidently did not read the latest email from the Illinois GOP as closely as I did. I refer to the subtitle, "Budget Proposal Equal to Raising Income Tax to 5.5%." Did we not just have a story on rebootillinois.com that said the bipartisan working groups had forwarded a budget to their leaders that would raise the income tax to 4.85 percent? There's a pretty reasonable middle ground to be found between the rank-and-file's 4.85 percent and the apparently apocalyptic 5.5 percent. If they get to work whittling down that $7 billion by, say, passing procurement reform to save $500 million, we could have something going here.

MADELEINE: Oh, Matt, I do love your optimism. And we certainly ought to be saving some money through changing the way we purchase or procure things in state government. We need more changes than that. I have to say I think Radogno and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and Gov. Bruce Rauner have a point on this one. Durkin said the Speaker's plan was a "slap in the face of every Illinoisan." I'd say we've been allowing ourselves to be slapped around for decades, but definitely in the past four consecutive years. Rauner was elected to change things after 40 years of Madigan and several years of Democratic governors. The only thing we're changing here is the amount of money being sucked out of our pockets. I don't understand why Madigan and Rauner can't find a way to compromise. Well, I do, it's all ego and power and politics, but it's got to stop.

What happened to the Speaker who pushed through benefit cuts for state workers several years ago? And the one who pushed through the pension bill that the Supreme Court rejected? He's always been fairly tight with a buck before. I mean, I know we need a tax increase at this point, or a few, and I wish we'd had some public debate for the past two years about how we ought to revamp our tax system the way Rauner said we would, but more money and more spending and nothing else has got to stop being the answer. I do wonder how some of the rank-and-file Democrats are going to go home and look their taxpaying bosses in the eyes after this.

Madigan is only guaranteeing a worse debt-drenched life for his grandchildren and their children. And oh, tell that 12-year-old Teddy at your house, the one who said your website is always whining about Illinois that I'm sorry, but we're whining for him. He's never going to be able to buy himself or his kids regular hot fudge sundaes when he grows up if he stays here.

Media critic Teddy Dietrich giving a thumbs-up to Margie's Candies but not to his father's website.

MATT: I didn't intend to give Madigan a pass. My point is that the numbers can work if people talk to each other. Madigan's $7.1 billion out-of-balance budget bill was yet another stunt that will come to nothing but may produce campaign mailers against Republicans who voted against it. I can give you 20.3 million reasons why Republicans will be able to do the same against Democrats who have rejected Rauner's Turnaround Agenda.

Need I remind you that Gov. Rauner has had his own budget proposal out there for five months? He admits it's out of balance by $3.5 billion. The Civic Federation, hardly a tax-and-spend outfit, said the $3.5 billion figure is "significantly understated."

Rauner said he'll gladly help raise taxes if Democrats embrace his reforms, but I never can follow what combination of reforms and in what form might motivate him to sidle up to the budget table. For months he has insisted that the only way to get workers' compensation insurance rates down in Illinois is to enact the most severe version of workers' comp reform -- a model used by only a few other states. He seemed to moderate a bit on that at his press conference Monday, which was good news. Get those insurance rates down NOW, claim victory and get to work on a budget, governor.

Madigan and Rauner both own the current mess and each believes he's winning. Madigan believes he's protecting the middle class, Rauner has visions of a prosperous, Turnaround-Agenda-fueled Illinois some years in the future. The more they win, the more we lose.