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Illinois Issues: The Budget Impasse Backstory

hourglass with dollar signs instead of sand filtering through
flickr/ Bill Brooks

Before he ran for governor, Bruce Rauner described a plan to use funding for social services as a “wedge” issue to persuade Democrats to support anti-union proposals. The fact that lawmakers did nothing to address the rollback of the temporary income tax increase, which was passed in 2011, set the stage for him to try out his strategy.

When the income tax rates rolled back, the state lost billions in revenue. Democrats had super majorities in the legislature. 

Crisis creates opportunity. Crisis creates leverage to change. - Gov. Bruce Rauner

But, according to House Speaker Michael Madigan, they didn’t have the votes to pass an extension of the income tax hike in 2014. Instead, the legislature put off taking action on politically unpopular budget solutions until after the 2014 election.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner said he would negotiate on a tax increase to provide some of the revenue needed to close the state’s deficit. But he said lawmakers would have to pass some of his Turnaround Agenda first. Many of the proposals in the agenda are laced with provisions that would present existential threats to public unions.

One of the most devastating things about this crisis is that it was absolutely preventable, and everyone knew it was coming. - Emily Miller, Voices for Illinois Children

Instead of prying Democratic votes loose, Rauner’s wedge pushed party leadership to more strongly embrace public employee unions, which are some of their biggest political supporters. 

Now social services and higher education are paying the price for this political contest of wills.

To get the full picture of how Illinois ended up in the current crisis, Illinois Issues is highlighting two stories this week.

One looks at the governor’s and Democratic leadership’s potential motives in the fight over organized labor. The other focuses on the legislature’s failure to make the tough choices of voting to increase taxes, cut programs or both to balance the budget before Rauner took office. 

Illinois Issues: The Social Cost of Rauner v. Labor

Illinois Issues: Budget Crisis Could Have Been Averted Before The Current Standoff

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NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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