State lawmaker calls on Assembly to meet monthly until budget impasse solved
The Illinois General Assembly should be in session every month until lawmakers get the budget right, a state legislator from Leland Grove said in a recent op-ed piece.
"We all have seen the consequences to our families and community when no state budget is in place," State Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, R-Leland Grove, said in an Illinois Times guest opinion piece. "Having the General Assembly in session each month will provide us the best opportunity to prevent that from reoccurring on Jan. 1. Let’s get back to work in the Capitol."
The state currently is limping along on a temporary budget plan brokered by lawmakers in Springfield earlier this summer, ending a largely partisan 18-month-long standoff that had people going to court just to get paid. "But our work on our fiscal-year 2017 state budget is far from complete," Jimenez said in the op-ed. "The stopgap spending plan approved this summer to fund most state operations and services expires on Dec. 31. If no new plan is in place by then, we will once again be without a budget."
To get the monthly sessions to happen, Jimenez said she has written all four legislative leaders formally, requesting that they consider bringing the House and Senate back into session at least once per month through year's end until a full-year budget is complete. "If they do not, I have requested that the governor take action to call us back into session," Jimenez said.
If Jimenez does convince lawmakers to go back to work on that schedule, it looks like they stand no better shot than anyone else in the state of getting paid. Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger began instructing payroll personnel last spring to make politicians wait for their paychecks, just like any other vendor to whom the state owes money. Munger has met with resistance, but she has stood her ground.
"I don’t know of an employer that would pay someone that is not doing their job," Munger told the Sangamon Sun. "Why should taxpayers settle for less? We tell small businesses, nonprofits, hospitals, schools and others to wait in line for months for what they’re owed by the state -- it’s unconscionable that we would prioritize politician pay and move them to the front."
It isn't clear how much lawmakers actually would suffer to go unpaid as Illinois legislators are among the best paid in the country, while turning out the most unbalanced budget in the state's history. However, with the state facing high debts that Munger estimated in February would hit somewhere between $10 billion and $12 billion by year's end, there's much clamoring to get the budget under control.
"As I talk to residents in the 99th District, they tell me they want certainty from our state government, especially with a balanced, full-year budget, and for us to work together," Jimenez said. "We all want stability, and I am doing my best to make that happen. We need to move forward."
Jimenez promised no panacea in her op-ed piece.
"I remain hopeful that we will agree on a new budget, as well as a reformed path forward for our state before that deadline arrives," Jimenez said. "We need a balanced budget. We need a certain path forward for state workers and all of the people we serve."
The present legislative session likely doesn't allow enough time to get the budget nailed down, Jimenez said.
"Both the House and Senate have only six veto-session days on our schedule in November and December," Jimenez said. "Keeping in mind that it took a year and a half to reach agreement on the current stopgap budget, it may be unrealistic to assume we can agree on a new budget plan in six short days."