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Illinois Is Now The Only State Still Facing A Budget Impasse

By Sophie Lucido Johnson in News on Mar 24, 2016 3:57PM

Photo credit: Ann Hilton Fisher

Pennsylvania's budget stalemate fizzled out Wednesday; that means—you guessed it—Illinois is officially the only remaining state without a spending plan for the 2016 fiscal year.

After a nine-month standoff, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said that he would allow a Republican spending plan to take effect without his signature. Wolf had threatened to veto the budget because his own proposed budget—which included multibillion dollar tax increases from the Republican-controlled Legislature—was repeatedly rejected. Wolf's action will avert several potential crisis points in Pennsylvania, particularly from schools that said they could not afford to stay open without a budget. (Sound familiar?)

Illinois's Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has been at an impasse with the Democratic Legislature for almost nine months over our own state budget. Rauner wants a plan that would include anti-union measurements and more benefits for businesses, but the Legislature has been unwilling to budge. Effects of the budget crisis in Illinois have become increasingly apparent. Chicago State University spokesperson Thomas Wogan called the situation a "crisis by every definition of the word crisis" in January, amidst real concerns that public universities statewide would have to close before the end of the academic year.

Chicago Public Schools are also facing tough decisions about what to do to get through the school year. In his proposed budget, Rauner has declared all-out warfare on the Chicago Teachers Union, and is pushing strongly for a state takeover of the public school system. He has used this agenda to divert attention from the continual lack of a budget, but the state's public institutions have been feeling the consequences since at least January.

In August, when the state's budget impasse was already beginning to seem ridiculous, we reported that Peoria Journal Star political reporter and columnist Chris Kaergard had decided to grow his beard until the governor and the legislature could come to an agreement.

The beard that he described as a "monstrosity" back then is now totally out of control, making Kaergard a viable candidate for any beard competition in the country. He posted this Valentine to Twitter, urging the state to move toward a compromise. Even then, he looked at least somewhat hopeful that change would eventually come.

Kaergard's Twitter post yesterday was markedly more dismal. Frowning beneath an unruly mass of hair, his tweet reads, "Enough nonsense, Illinois. PA settled on a budget, why can't you?" He's inviting readers to get on the action with the hashtag #BudgetBeard.

Kaegard told Chicagoist in an email Thursday morning that the beard has become a nuisance, and the lack of meaningful progress toward a new budget agreement is "astonishing."

"For all the issues that have been dealt with since the start of the impasse—approving federal pass-through money, limited spending on municipalities, even Illinois Lottery payouts —the core disputes are still the same, and neither Gov. Rauner nor any of the legislative leaders seems to be making negotiation a priority," he wrote. "Meanwhile, the failure of rank-and-file lawmakers to exert their influence on the process speaks volumes about their effectiveness."

Meanwhile, the novelty of growing out his beard has definitely worn off, he said.

"The beard itself has become much more of a nuisance the longer it has gotten, if only because of the upkeep and maintenance. (Boy, does it get tangled!)," he wrote. "I have virtually no hope I'll be able to shave in the next few months, at least the way things seem to be proceeding. We've discussed whether or not I should call it quits at the end of this fiscal year (13 months after I began growing the beard at the end of the legislative session May 31, 2015), but at this stage I haven't made a firm decision. I go back and forth on it, though I'd really like to see my full face again!