Why do Illinois Democrats keep voting for those clowns of theirs?
They'd probably reply that their clowns are a cut above the Republican clowns, and they may be right. But that still leaves the question: How can Democratic voters keep electing the very people who keep assaulting health care, child welfare and other social programs so dear to the Democratic heart?
Even the most reactionary, right-wing troglodytes have not been as successfully obstructionist as Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Senate President Emil Jones and House Speaker Michael Madigan—Democrats all—whose budget stalemate is giving social service providers fits.
The Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association warns that the budgetary inaction could throw 42,000 of their clients "out on the street." Almost $600 million in Medicaid-related cuts, which will cause the loss of federal Medicaid funds, will "artificially" hold expenditures to last year's budget levels in the Department of Children and Family Services, despite generally rising health-care costs, said Sen. Christine Radogno (R-Lemont). Other state agencies and providers have joined in the lament and demand action.
All told, Blagojevich line-item vetoed $1.4 billion out of the state's proposed $59 billion budget, with more reductions in the making. The governor made the cuts because, he said, the Illinois House, under Madigan's direction, had passed a budget without enough revenues to cover the costs. That is true enough.
(A clarification: "Cuts" is a term used too loosely by politicians and journalists. Cuts are not always reductions in year-to-year spending. In fact, a cut could leave a program with an actual funding increase over last year. That's because the cuts discussed here actually are reductions in what was originally proposed. Senate Republicans said of the $1.4 billion in Blagojevich's cuts, 70 percent are simply the elimination of proposed spending increases. For example, some politicians moaned that education funds were being cut, but schools still were in line for tens of millions of additional state subsidies.)
Anyway, the House has restored some of the governor's cuts, and the budget has now gone to the Senate, where Jones refuses to consider it until after the November election. Waiting until then is cowardly enough, but it's even worse. Jones and other lawmakers hunger for a 7.5 percent pay raise and if they wait until after the election, they don't have to vote on it to get the raise; it's automatic, thanks to an arcane system they have rigged to not get blamed for voting themselves more money. So, there'll be no vote on the budget until after the election, thank you very much.
I'm not usually the one pumping for more spending, but government support of private-sector service providers has become such a critical part of our social service financial infrastructure that it would be wrong to suddenly leave such agencies as Chicago's Haymarket Center, a refuge for the addicted and homeless, holding the bag. Of course, all this confusion and delay is part of a complex and self-destructive game designed by these top-dog Democrats to make each other look like idiots, which is about the only thing they have accomplished this year.
And now it is Jones' turn to look like the idiot, and to feel the heat. He should. His office denies that the delay of the Senate vote has anything to do with pay raises, but the excuse that is offered—that the Senate already has passed its own budget with sufficient revenues—isn't credible. If Jones were serious about his Democratic principles, he'd do the moral, responsible thing and find a way to get the budget done now. But I don't blame Jones as much as I blame the Democratic voters who keep electing these self-serving, petty people.
The Democratic leadership needs to be disciplined, if not stopped, and I am beginning to think that term limits might be the only way to pry these men out of their seats. That would require a constitutional amendment, which we know lawmakers would not approve under any circumstances. That leaves a state Constitutional Convention. Truly, I'd be glad if we didn't have to resort to opening up the entire constitution to alteration as the price of straightening out this state. But what else is there?
So, to the well-funded special interests that oppose a Con Con, as the convention is informally known, I again ask this question: What is your solution?
Dennis Byrne is a Chicago-area writer. His blog can be read at http://dennisbyrne.blogspot.com
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