Statehouse Insider: Budget Work Getting Messy

Remember that old saying about sausage and laws being two things you don’t want to watch being made? It’s beginning to look like you can add state budgets to that list.


The big move in both the House and Senate this year is to return budget-making authority to the various appropriations committees in the two chambers. That’s the way it used to be done around the Capitol until the process evolved into the “budgeteers.” That’s the clever nickname given to a handful of budget experts from each party in each chamber who would meet behind closed doors for endless hours in the later weeks of the session to hash out a new spending plan.

At least it worked that way until the majority Democrats decided Republicans needn’t be part of the process.

As a legislative session wound down, a massive budget bill — several hundred pages long — would be plopped down on lawmakers’ desks, and they would be asked to vote on it. A lot of people complained about the process, largely because no one had much time to digest the details before the budget had to be approved.

But next year’s budget is now in the hands of the appropriations committees. If nothing else, the result can give you an appreciation for the work done by the budgeteers all of these years.
Senate Democrats trotted out a budget plan and ran into a buzz saw of criticism from other Democrats over some of the proposed cuts.  Parts of it are being retooled.

The House finally put out some parts of a budget Friday, but large pieces, like human services and education, are still being hashed out.  And, for the record, the House and Senate don’t agree on the size of cuts needed, so all of that still needs to be worked out.

It ain’t going to be pretty.

* If you are into guessing, try guessing if the session will end by May 31, before Republican votes are needed to pass things. One theory says yes, because Democrats don’t want Republicans dictating cuts.  The other theory says no, because Democrats want to force Republican votes on a budget that whacks spending.

Happy prognosticating.

* It’s been open season on public employees around the United States  for a while now.
Illinois hasn’t been as hostile as some other states, like our friends in Wisconsin, but the sentiment is still there. Public employees are paid too much, their benefits are too rich, etc., etc.


A bunch of unions representing public employees have joined in a coalition called “We Are One Illinois” to fight back. You may have noticed some TV ads aired by the group opposing any cut in pensions for current workers.

The organization also commissioned a poll to see just what Illinoisans think about public employees and their benefits. Hart Research Associates polled 807 Illinois voters in mid-April to gauge their feelings on public employees.

According to the organization, the poll shows 53 percent have positive feelings for public workers versus 13 percent who have negative feelings. Even 50 percent of Republicans have those warm, fuzzy feelings.

When it comes to those evil pensions, 36 percent felt they were just right, while 13 percent felt they weren’t generous enough. Still, 39 percent said public employee pensions are too generous. A significant 60 percent felt employees should get the pensions they were promised, even though the pension systems are mired in debt. That, even though less than half of those responding knew that public employees contribute toward their own pension funds.

No, the poll isn’t the last word on public attitudes toward public employees. But it is a word, and its conclusions indicate there’s no monolithic view that public employees are the bane of public budgets.

Doug Finke can be reached at 788-1527 or doug.finke@sj-r.com.