Illinois governor offers tax-hike guidance to end stalemate

FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2017, file photo, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his State of the State address in the Illinois House chamber in Springfield, Ill. Gov. Rauner is gearing up to deliver his third budget address on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, during a joint session of the Legislature. The prospects that it will be adopted into law are as slim as they were for the first two. They were shelved. (Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP File)

The Associated Press

Gov. Bruce Rauner shirked his duty Wednesday. And, in so doing, offered a laughable budget address that, in effect, gave him full title to the ails that are sinking Illinois.

The Illinois Constitution is exceedingly clear about the annual budgeting process: "The Governor shall prepare and submit to the General Assembly, at a time prescribed by law, a State budget for the ensuing fiscal year."

Rauner might as well have thrown up his hands up and said, "Screw it."

Instead, Rauner demurred. Instead, he lectured the state Senate, where Republican and Democratic leaders have for weeks worked on a deal that could end a two-year stalemate. Instead, Rauner offered a non-starter of a so-called budget that's $4.6 billion out of whack. And that's assuming $2.7 billion in cuts that ruling Democrats in the General Assembly simply won't suffer while rejecting tax hikes needed to close some of the gap. 

It's unclear what Rauner hoped to achieve Wednesday when he walked into the hostile General Assembly. But one thing's for certain, he didn't offer the leadership that's so desperately lacking in the failing state of Illinois.

Excuse the broken record, it's unreasonable to blame Illinois' freshman Republican governor for the state's ills. He wasn't in office when Springfield thought it a good idea to bilk the pension system to plug holes elsewhere. He was still in the private sector as state government grew well beyond its means. 

He hasn't spent more than three decades bowing before public employee unions and bathing in the campaign cash.

At some point, Rauner takes ownership of this mess, at least the state's inability to grapple with it. Rauner signed that deed Wednesday.

A temporary property tax freeze is part of the dozen-bill package under construction in the Senate. Rauner, instead, demanded an unrealistic permanent one. The Senate "grand bargain" would hike taxes on food and medication to make up some ground. Rauner rejected it outright without offering much in the way of a replacement.

Rauner's overall numbers are so departed from reality that they're not even a basis for budget negotiations. It's a full-fledged dereliction of duty that smacks of a man more concerned with his own re-election than governance.

Nothing Illinois does to right itself will be pretty. There's no way to stem the plunging credit ratings and piling bills without enraging taxpayers and upsetting entrenched interests. Both parties have to accept that fact before anything can get done.

Income taxes will be hiked, a truth that, thankfully, Rauner recognized in his speech. Unions must be reined in, a reality that won't sit well with Democrats. Cuts must be made, but not through offering dead-on-arrival suggestions that, in no way, propel the debate forward. 

Rauner walked into the General Assembly and gave a speech, complete with a teleprompter glitch, focused on what he wouldn't accept instead of any real path forward. Rauner left the solutions for someone else. 

In so doing, Illinois' first-term governor dodged his duty and took ownership of America's failing state. 

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, City Editor Dan Bowerman, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.