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When is a deadline not a deadline?

When it's a deadline for the Illinois state legislature, of course.

In school, when you miss a deadline, you face a penalty. In the newspaper business, missed deadlines mean a lot of unhappy people, from co-workers to customers. If too many deadlines are missed, people lose jobs.

In Springfield, when legislators ignore deadlines, it's business as usual. It's been that way for 700-plus days. We have a governor who said he wouldn't approve a budget with tax increases and a House that replied, “OK, we won't send you one to veto then.”

What other conclusion can we draw from this behavior than legislators are either waiting for a pile of money to fall in their laps, or they are deliberately putting off decisions in some kind of twisted social experiment? It's not as though they don't know the consequences of their actions. They've had front row seats to the budgetary disaster of the last two-plus years.

It doesn't even matter who's to blame. As voters, we are clearly doing a poor job communicating to our public servants that they must meet minimal job requirements.

But this is not the time for voters to beat themselves up for their choices. Right now, the legislature is doing plenty to beat up voters.

Lawmakers use the right phrases, of course: being responsible to the voters, wanting to get us out of this mess, a desire to help those in need.

But they're ignoring all the potential problems. 

Some state services are continuing to receive funding, but only because the law requires it. The law also requires the legislature to produce a budget, and they're having no trouble ignoring that.

The potential problems ahead are plentiful, and unlike the already disgusting fallout we've observed. Social services are being cut. Institutions of higher education are losing employees and class offerings. There is a possibility some public schools won't open in the fall because of nonexistent funding.

There is an additional troubling issue ahead.

Comptroller Susana Mendoza estimates the state will owe at least $800 million in interest and fees on overdue bills by the end of June.

In a interview with Bloomberg, Ted Hampton, the lead analyst on Illinois for Moody’s Investors Service, said the state is “headed in the direction of being a factor that just by itself really threatens the sort of financial foundations of the state. There is kind of an uncertain but very real legal and political limit to the state’s ability to keep deferring payments.”

Among potential issues are even more lawsuits against the state from those demanding payment.

Now, compromise is mandatory. Democrats have enough votes to pass what they want in the Senate, but House Democrats are four votes shy of those needed for a super majority, the requirement now to pass any budget legislation.

The state doesn't have a rich relative to sweep in and rescue the day. At some point, the work has to be done. At some point, doing right by the millions of state residents has to be the number one priority. At some point, statesmanship must win out over partisanship.

Or at some point, one of the inevitable and predicted outcomes will occur. And how do we react then?

How do you deal with a child who, for years, has not done what they are supposed to do? What do you do if there are a couple hundred of them, and they're all adults?

-- The Bloomington Pantagraph


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