This year marks my 20-year anniversary as an Illinois attorney. So I thought it might be time to actually read again Article VIII, Section 2 of our Illinois Constitution in detail, the section entitled "State Finance" which lays out the responsibilities for preparing a balanced state budget.
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner might want to read it too, as it appears that neither he nor any of his self-designated "superstars" ever have.
Rauner did after all swear an oath that he would support our Illinois Constitution, and we're paying his people a lot to know and comply with all of our laws and constitutional provisions.
You certainly don't need to spend three years in law school to read and understand Article VIII, Section 2. It's clearly drafted and quite straightforward. Here it is in its entirety:
SECTION 2. STATE FINANCE
(a) The Governor shall prepare and submit to the General
Assembly, at a time prescribed by law, a State budget for the
ensuing fiscal year. The budget shall set forth the estimated
balance of funds available for appropriation at the beginning
of the fiscal year, the estimated receipts, and a plan for
expenditures and obligations during the fiscal year of every
department, authority, public corporation and quasi-public
corporation of the State, every State college and university,
and every other public agency created by the State, but not
of units of local government or school districts. The budget
shall also set forth the indebtedness and contingent
liabilities of the State and such other information as may be
required by law. Proposed expenditures shall not exceed funds
estimated to be available for the fiscal year as shown in the
(b) The General Assembly by law shall make
appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the
State. Appropriations for a fiscal year shall not exceed
funds estimated by the General Assembly to be available
during that year.
In other words, our Illinois Constitution clearly places the legal duty on THE GOVERNOR to take the lead in the budgeting process. It is his job to first prepare and submit a balanced budget.
Only after the Governor has fulfilled his constitutional duty does responsibility shift to the General Assembly to work with the balanced budget provided by the Governor and to make the appropriations.
The 3rd Edition (1987) of a state publication entitled 1970 Illinois Constitution Annotated for Legislators explains on page 78: "In Illinois the executive branch is primarily responsible for preparing a comprehensive budget proposal, which by law is required to be sent to the General Assembly by the first Wednesday in March of each year."
The problem is Rauner has never complied. The budget he did submit was billions out of balance.
I have not heard a single Republican lawmaker even attempt to deny this fact. Even Rauner's most sycophantic bootlicks will only try to argue that the budget of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly is more out-of-whack than Rauner's out-of-whack budget. (And yes I'm looking at you Illinois Policy Institute and Chicago Tribune Editorial Board.)
It may in fact be true that the Democrats currently have a larger budget hole than Rauner - maybe by a billion dollars at most from what I can glean.
But that lame excuse misses the point entirely. Again, the General Assembly's duties regarding the budget don't even kick-in under our Constitution until the Governor fulfills his legal duty.
If the plain language of Article VIII, Section 2 isn't enough, consider the official comments from our state's 1970 Constitutional Convention where the current Article VIII was adopted.
For example, the report of the Committee of the Whole, dated April 28, 1970, states: "The Finance Article is new; the 1870 constitution contains nothing comparable."
The Convention observed, "[our old constitution] seems to provide authority for an executive budget but it was not until 1913 that a Governor of Illinois presented such a budget. Prior to that time such officer and agency presented and defended its budget request before the General Assembly."
Basically, in the old days individual constitutional officers and agency heads would insert themselves directly in the budget process with the General Assembly. This understandably created problems and confusion. And even though the drafters in 1970 recognized that "In recent years, the state governor has emerged as the principal policy and legislative leader" - it was strongly believed that better constitutional clarification was needed in order to establish once and for all that: "In state government only the governor has at his command all the power and resources needed to initiate a plan which balances the state's revenue resources with its program needs, and to coordinate that plan through a good system of fiscal management."
The drafters continued: "The state budget is the major vehicle by which the Governor presents his policy and financial plan to the General Assembly and to the people. It provides a ready means for legislative review of state programs and policy and is the one document in which the financial condition of the state can be portrayed in its entirety."
The drafters in 1970 did of course recognize the General Assembly's important duty in the budget process, and that role comes in Section 2(b) of Article VIII - after the Governor's Section 2(a) job is complete.
The drafters explained it this way: "In the appropriations process, however, the legislature retains the ultimate power to deal with the governor's proposals. It adjusts the governor's budget in accord with the tug and pull of political, sectional and special interests."
Again, all of this assumes that the Governor has already satisfied his duty under our Constitution.
Because Rauner hasn't done his job of submitting a balanced budget as required by our Constitution, we now have a budget mess in Springfield. Rauner ran the whole thing off the tracks at the very beginning.
We now see Rauner people in multiple courts litigating budget matters he hasn't handled, even as Rauner elsewhere argues we need to limit lawsuits of the type some of his businesses faced in the past.
Incredibly I've heard at least one GOP lawmaker on the floor of the House try to call out the Democrats for their failure to comply with Article VIII, Section 2(b), while acting as if Section 2(a) didn't even exist. And just as inexplicably, the Democrats have wholly failed to communicate to the public what our Constitution requires.
Meanwhile, almost everyone in the Illinois media purportedly reporting on the budget process appears completely clueless.
There are sure to be many contentious days ahead before Illinois sees a budget agreement. But the drama that's played out so far has largely been a waste of time and taxpayer money.
Rauner likes to point fingers and he enjoys being a bomb thrower. He's never left campaign mode. But it's high time he did his job.
Bruce Rauner must go back to square one and submit a balanced budget as our Illinois Constitution requires him to do as Governor.
Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.