Dec. 01--Gov. Bruce Rauner is scheduled to meet Tuesday morning with the state's four legislative leaders, including House Speaker Michael Madigan, to discuss the state budget impasse.
Will the public portion of the meeting among political adversaries be civilized? Of course. Safe, routine talking points fully expected.
The real question is whether the private meeting will be productive. Ending the five-months-long stalemate over the 2016 state budget would serve the interests of all Illinois citizens, regardless of their individual political interests. Will the governor and the legislative leaders be able to set aside theirs?
Here's one frame of reference to keep them all focused on a common goal: Baa1.
That's the state's latest credit rating, three steps above junk status, assigned by Moody's Investors Service. Moody's downgraded Illinois' credit in October due in large part to the budget impasse. Without a spending plan, the state is stumbling through a daily routine of triage, scrambling to pay bills it can afford while allowing others to pile up -- and paying interest on everything that's late.
Want to see a frightening number? Go to the Illinois comptroller's office website to see the daily ticker of the state's bill backlog. It's at $6.9 billion, up from roughly $4 billion in July. Basically, the state is deficit spending millions and millions of dollars every single day.
There's still no resolution to the $111 billion unfunded pension liability. And lawmakers haven't spent much time in Springfield this fall. They're back in their districts getting ready for next year's elections.
So while Tuesday's meeting in Springfield could collapse into theatrics, it shouldn't. It doesn't have to. Not if everyone walks into that room with a shoulder toward sincerity. Is that possible in this state? Shouldn't taxpayers at least demand it?
Rauner proposed a format that includes 10 minutes for each leader -- Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, House Republican leader Jim Durkin and Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno -- to present his or her "case to the people of Illinois," according to a letter Rauner sent them Nov. 13. A camera will be allowed in the room to livestream the presentations.
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