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Doug Finke

GOP budget help will come with strings

Senate Dems likely will have to go it alone

Senate Dems likely will have to go it alone

SPRINGFIELD – Guess the Senate Democrats will have to decide just how much they want Republican support when they get around to approving what pretty much everyone believes is going to be a very ugly state budget this spring.

That’s because the Senate Republicans have a pretty long list of demands in exchange for their cooperation.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that the various candidates for governor have been vague, at best, about how they would deal with the looming expiration of a large part of the temporary income tax increase.

That includes Gov. Pat Quinn and all four Republicans who want to take his job.

Different estimates are coming from different sources, but there is agreement that Illinois will have a whole lot less tax money coming in next year to pay for state programs, something on the order of $1.6 billion to $2 billion.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said the total hole – from lost revenue and unavoidable cost increases like contractual pay raises – is something on the order of $3 billion.

Cullerton held a news conference last week to warn of the difficulty in trying to fill that hole, and to call on Republicans to be active participants in trying to find a solution.

He also pointed a finger at the Republican candidates for governor, saying they need to explain their plans for dealing with the budget shortfall.

Cullerton did not take the opportunity of the news conference to lay out the Democrats’ plan for the budget.

Senate Republicans basically responded by saying if the Democrats want their help, here’s what they have to do:

• Let the tax hike expire;

• Drop talk of a progressive income tax;

• Approve a no-growth budget;

• Approve more workers compensation reforms;

• Change school funding; and

• Reinvigorate efforts to eliminate Medicaid benefits for ineligible recipients.

Cullerton should probably start planning now to approve the budget with just his supermajority Democrats.

Difficult to read

Arizona tea leaves

The most unfortunate development last week may have been the ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court on changes to pension benefits in that state.

Now, before you start delivering hate mail by the bundle, it’s not because of the way the court ruled. It’s because it ruled at all.

Arizona has pension protections in its Constitution, very much like Illinois has. The Arizona Supremes ruled that changing cost-of-living adjustments, like Illinois did in its pension reforms, was unconstitutional.

Naturally, this brought out all of the Monday morning lawyers in Illinois to make bold predictions about the Illinois Supreme Court similarly striking down pension reform here.

Maybe they will, but the Arizona decision doesn’t necessarily mean the Illinois Supreme Court will reach the same conclusion.

So far, Illinois’ pension reforms have barely started their way through the circuit courts, let alone through the Supreme Court.

You suspect that if the Arizona court had upheld pension reforms there, we’d hear the pro-reformers talking about how well that bodes for things in Illinois.

In fact, difficult as it may be, it’s probably best for both sides to just sit back and wait for the Illinois case to play out in the Illinois courts.

Still winter, so

still Christmas?

For awhile last week, one corner of the Capitol was blocked off to pedestrians because of the fear of falling ice. Because of a brief warm-up, the danger was over by Thursday.

Now, if you happened to look up to make sure you weren’t hit by falling ice, you may have noticed that the Christmas lights are still up on the dome, 2 months into the new year.

The reason, of course, is the rotten weather that has made it too dangerous for workers to go up on the roof and remove them.

At the rate this winter is going, the lights should be down by Memorial Day.