Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Budget blues

Like children stuck in a classroom on a sunny day, politicians tried to speed through business Tuesday so they could get out to play their annual softball game between the Representatives and the Senators. Their master plan hit a snag when House GOP members started standing to speak their minds about the lack of a budget to vote on. Despite Democrat Rep. Lou Lang’s criticism for composing political speeches when no bill was under discussion, a string of Republicans spoke with urgency and a chip on their shoulders for not being invited to the budget negotiations. They called for the governor to appear, as the April 7 adjourn date has slipped out of reach.

Rep. Jim Sacia, a Pecatonica Republican, called the last-minute budget an abomination, an “insult to anyone with intelligence above plant life.”

Soon after, Danville Republican Rep. Bill Black stood up and said: “It didn't used to work this way. We used to have budget meetings. We used to have budget briefings. We used to have caucus after caucus after caucus to discuss the budget, and here we are what should be four days from adjournment. And as I raised the question last week: When are we going to talk about the budget? When are we going to see budget figures?”

He referred to the message House Republicans issued in a press conference Monday. They talked about the long-term problems caused by the $1.1 billion in deferred payments to the state’s five pension systems and the sale of assets as a way to keep the budget and the teachers’ retirement system afloat. “Do any of you want to get to a future General Assembly when you have to appropriate current tax dollars to pay current pension benefits? Have you read what’s going on? [Illinois Teachers Retirement System] is selling hard assets to pay current claims? There is a negative cash flow this year estimated at more than $800 million.”

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