Whatever slim hope there ever was of Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic lawmakers using the Legislature’s lame duck session to work out an agreement to get Illinois back on track appeared to evaporate Wednesday.
Now the brinksmanship heads into 2017 with no obvious mechanism other than more crises to force the compromise that eventually must take place.
As usual, House Speaker Mike Madigan was in the middle of the breakdown, although I’ve long grown weary of assigning blame.
Yet it was the typical blame game at work Wednesday when Madigan held a vote on Republican Rep. David McSweeney’s resolution opposing consideration of an income tax increase during the lame duck session in January.
Resolutions are only symbolic. They aren’t laws.
But the resulting 87-12 vote in favor of McSweeney’s proposal with Democrats joining in support effectively ended any chances of holding a tax increase vote next month — and with it also the prospects for a larger deal on the state budget or any of Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda” proposals.
An income tax increase is regarded as a main component of any “grand bargain” contemplated by Rauner to fund a balanced budget and get the state out of hock, not that Rauner will ever get out front and own up to it.
In fact, it was the latest finger-pointing over whether any tax increase would be Madigan’s fault or Rauner’s fault that seemed to trigger the unexpected maneuver.
Let us stipulate that when a tax increase does come to pass, as it necessarily will, both men will have to own it, as will members of both of their political parties.
Madigan could have kept the McSweeney measure bottled up as he would normally do with any Republican proposal his members don’t really like. There was no reason to call for a vote on the measure other than to cause problems. The best that can be said is that the vote just illuminates where we were always going to end up anyhow.
The lame duck session, created by a quirk in the Illinois Constitution that allows legislation to pass with a simple majority during a brief window in January before a new General Assembly is sworn in, was regarded as the best hope of getting something done soon.
Lawmakers whose terms will be ending, either because they were voted out of office or through retirement, are sometimes willing to take tough votes in lame duck sessions where they would otherwise be politically fearful.
That’s occasionally used as a tool to deal with the thorniest issues facing government, such as tax increases.
McSweeney made the argument that lame duck sessions thwart the will of the voters in the most recent election who may have turned these lawmakers out of office. Rauner and Republican legislative leaders had voiced similar sentiments in the past, despite pointing to this lame duck session as an opportunity to do a deal.
Democratic House members, led by those already being targeted by Republicans for defeat in 2018, voiced support for McSweeney’s plan, all part of the show.
Only Rep. Barbara Flynn Curie, D-Chicago, made the forthright argument that outgoing lawmakers were also properly elected and should be permitted to conduct the Legislature’s business.
“Should we amend this to say you can’t do anything during the lame duck session?” Currie asked rhetorically.
I don’t like lame duck sessions either, but I don’t find them inherently evil. Allowing lame duck legislators to trade their votes for future jobs for themselves, as has happened in the past, is evil.
The new Legislature can always correct any overreach of the old one, if that’s what it really is.
But what’s done is done, and with it, any realistic chance of averting more pain for the people who rely on the services of state government.Tweets by @MarkBrownCST