Is the Stopgap Budget a Step in the Right Direction or "Groundhog Day" Replay?

The Illinois budget agreement hammered out on June 30 will allow state government to avoid outright collapse through calendar year 2016, but it hardly fits the definition of what a real "budget" should be.

Just as your household budget addresses more than just what's for dinner tonight, so should a state budget look beyond simply avoiding imminent disaster. A state budget is more akin to a government game plan for the year ahead. It defines the state's needs and figures out how to pay for them.

The plan passed on June 30 will get Illinois through the year, but the same issues that caused the yearlong budget impasse still loom as large as ever.

Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Springfield on Nov. 15 for their fall veto session. That's when the momentary peace in the budget battle that began July 1 will end. Gov. Bruce Rauner said just before signing the June 30 stopgap plan that he still will not sign any tax increase until the General Assembly passes business and political reforms he says will revitalize the state economy in the long run.

And in a floor speech after the House passed the temporary plan, House Speaker Michael Madigan reiterated his oft-stated contention that Rauner's reform agenda has no place in state budget talks.

Perhaps, though, once the Nov. 8 elections are over, the rhetoric will be tamed. Maybe then Madigan will realize that Illinois business is struggling under the highest workers' compensation insurance rates in the country. And that changes can be made to the workers' compensation system that will bring down insurance rates for employees while not casting Illinois' middle class into poverty.

Perhaps by then Rauner will accept that his vision for workers' comp reform isn't necessarily the only plan that could meet the goal of reducing insurance costs.

Without voters or other constituent groups to fear, maybe both sides will be willing to make the difficult but necessary decisions Illinois needs to get a true budget in place.

We hope so, because if not, we're doomed to another year of damaging gridlock and further deterioration of state finances. Kind of like an endless loop of the movie "Groundhog Day," only with things getting worse every time the alarm clock goes off.

That's what we're talking about on this week's "Only in Illinois."

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