Thursday, May 15, 2008

Who's going to connect the dots?

By Patrick O’Brien

The House and Senate continue to plan the next state budget, but there doesn’t seem to be much agreement on either side of the aisle or in either chamber about what it will look like.

With two weeks left before the deadline to adjourn the General Assembly, one prominent Democrat says the process is behind schedule. “There are things they should have been working on a long time ago,” said Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson of Crete.

Halvorson also said the Senate should pass a “bare bones” budget and only pay for what the state can afford.

That greatly differs from what House Democrats are considering.

Rep. David Miller, a Lynwood Democrat, said the budget process in the House is being conducted to give individual members the chance to make a case for increased funding for particular departments so that the budget “reflects the needs of the state.”

The disconnect between the feuding budget proposals could indicate a “long, hot summer” like last year, said Rep. Mark Beaubien, a Barrington Hills Republican. “Everyone’s going their own separate ways. … The normal process of the budgeteers has totally broken down.”

Beaubien said the breakdown is by design — House Speaker Michael Madigan is pushing an overly optimistic, wish-list budget “designed to fail.” As a budget negotiator for his caucus, he said he believes Madigan may want to pressure the governor to accept an income tax increase to pay for increased funding for state agencies and new programs.

“The scenario being set up by Madigan is showing: ‘This is what we all want. We can’t get there. Let’s raise taxes,’” he said.

Steve Brown, Madigan’s spokesman, said the budget process wasn’t being conducted any differently this year than in past years, with one exception. “The whole dynamic of what negotiations are has changed radically in the past year.”

The other thing that’s different is that there are a lot more budget measures, which Beaubien estimated about 137. We’ll see whether that further complicates negotiations.

Brown also said some forecasts show growth in state funds, such as gasoline sales tax revenues. So they might not need a huge revenue boost.

The one thing both Miller and Beaubien see from their opposite sides of the aisle is that none of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s revenue ideas make the short list.

That may be the only thing Statehouse partisans can agree on. The issues they don’t agree on is the problem.

Beaubien said the longer the session goes into overtime, the less lawmakers want to show up.

“Many legislators, frankly, have been through it once, and aren’t going to go through it again. You’re going to find a very hollow chamber.”

No comments: