Christopher Z. Mooney


Commentary: Is democracy a root cause of the state's budget woes?

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Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner is replacing several top aides with employees of the Illinois Policy Institute, a libertarian-conservative advocacy organization. It comes days after a bipartisan group of legislators ended Illinois' two-year budget impasse by overriding Rauner's veto. 

Christopher Z. Mooney
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In the November 2014 general election, Illinois voters will have a fairly rare opportunity: to weigh in directly on very significant changes in policy. In California and many other states, voting on initiatives and referenda is a routine sideshow in the electoral circus. But in Illinois, statewide voting on policy questions is rare. In the past 20 years, this has only happened four times. But this year alone, Illinois voters could face up to four ballot measures to amend the state’s Constitution.

Legislative redistricting is the most important political process that most people know the least about. This insider’s game of political baseball provokes intense anxiety from politicians, high-pitched indignation from reformers and yawns from most voters. But as this year’s cycle of redistricting approaches, it is a good time to reflect on its profound effect on the fortunes of politicians and political parties, its potential impact on public policy and the possibility for reform.

WANTED — Hard-working professional for job in public eye. Requirements: public relations skills, wide knowledge of public policy issues, thick skin. 

Work conditions: long hours, low pay, short-term contract, thousands of bosses, loss of privacy. 

Duties: make hundreds of public decisions involving millions of dollars with little information and intense public scrutiny. Good chance of career ending in public defeat or disgrace. 

Application process: takes 12 months. 

Why is Illinois borrowing to pay state operating expenses? Will the state employee pension system be solvent after those early retirement deals? How will the state close the budget deficit?

Illinois hasn’t been the only state to face long-term fiscal and policy crises in recent years. Remember California’s energy shutdown? Who could forget Florida’s ballot debacles? And now every state seems to be grappling with a shortage of flu vaccine.