Voice of The Southern: Plenty of budget blame to go around

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Former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar stirred the state’s already roiled political waters last week with his comments at a Paul Simon Public Policy Institute event on the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus.

Speaking of the budget impasse that has paralyzed the state for nearly two years, Edgar committed the Republican version of heresy by granting partial absolution to House Speaker Mike Madigan. The former Republican governor said Madigan should be “maligned a little bit” but he has been “overly maligned.”

As can be expected in the hyper-partisan atmosphere that engulfs Illinois, it seems Edgar’s comments are being taken out of context — by virtually everyone.

Madigan, a Democrat from Chicago, has served as Speaker of the House for 32 years.

During election years, Madigan is portrayed by virtually every Republican running for office as the evil twin of Darth Vader or Voldemort. We saw denunciations of the speaker in ads run by local GOP candidates.

To be fair, Democratic candidates similarly accused their opponents of being controlled by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The reactions to Edgar’s comments remind us of a favorite device used by political cartoonists. In one frame, a politician is shown speaking on the stump. In the second frame, the crowd is depicted hearing something completely different.

What Edgar said is Mike Madigan is not the lone villain in the budget impasse. We believe that to be true.

Conversely, not being the villain isn’t the same as being the hero. That is an important distinction that, sadly, needs to be made in Illinois today, when battle lines are so clearly drawn. Quite frankly, there aren’t many heroes when it comes to the state’s budget impasse.

That is why we appreciate Edgar’s candor. When is the last time you saw a politician’s name and the word candor in the same sentence?

This is not an attempt to canonize Edgar by any means. It should be noted that the basis of today’s budget crisis — unfunded pensions throughout the state — had roots in the Edgar administration.

But, Edgar’s comments did break the bonds of partisanship, which is odd considering the issues facing the state. And, Illinois will not return to financial health as long as Republicans and Democrats would rather point fingers at each other than sit down and hash things out.

Gov. Rauner has certainly not lived up to his end of the bargain — by law, the governor is supposed to present a balanced budget to the legislature.

That obviously hasn’t happened.

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In the meantime, the Democrats punted an opportunity to make political hay. Why haven’t they submitted budget plans to the governor and forced his hand?

To the Republicans who went to Congress vowing to knock Madigan from power, take the cue from Edgar. That’s not the battle that needs to be fought right now. The most important thing here is to do what is right for the people of Illinois moving forward.

For Democrats insistent on proving Gov. Rauner is in over his head, just quit. Stop it, because it’s getting old. Simply punting the ball back into enemy territory isn’t a winning strategy. You have the majority in both the House and the Senate. It’s time to take advantage of it.

The budget impasse is nearly two years old. There have been rumblings that a solution might be on the horizon. Of course, we’ve heard that before, so we’re not holding our breath.

But, the 2018 election will be rolling around soon. Gov. Rauner is past the mid-point of his term and has not had a budget for nearly two years. In our book, that’s not a winning platform.

We realize it is cynical to think political pressure may finally be the cudgel to break this stalemate, but that beats the status quo.

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Voice of The Southern: Plenty of budget blame to go around

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