The following column appeared in the Southern Illinoisan on June 15, 2017.

 

DirksenStatueEast of the State Capitol in Springfield stands a statue of U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen, a 1950s and '60s Republican who earned a reputation for bringing partisans together. At the plinth of this art piece are a cartoonish, meek-looking elephant and donkey, overshadowed by the sensible compromiser from Pekin.

As Illinoisans, we are in desperate need of rekindling the progress that comes with compromise.

What controls much of Springfield today is cynicism and dug-in demands. Independence fears the threat of an endless supply of millions of political dollars shamelessly used to control an entire political party. Poll-tested advertisements take advantage of our short attention spans. These are the culprits that have rapidly shepherded us into one of most unstable states in the nation.

Countless Illinoisans, small businesses and public services have been so damaged after nearly three years without a budget that it’s only facts that lay that place the bulk of responsibly at on Gov. Bruce Rauner.

We are elected Democrats, yes. We’re also chairs of the Senate’s two budget committees. We’ve spent months working — really working — to forge a cooperative, bipartisan, negotiated balanced budget. Line by line, we coordinated with Republicans to identify massive spending cuts — $3 billion in total. We’ve agreed to non-budget reforms that many consider politically risky for Democrats. And, of course, we’ve been in earshot of the patronizing chuckles of special-interest partisans.

It’s been worth it because, in the end, it’s what every elected official is supposed to do — reasonably compromise to ensure government operates to benefit the whole state.

In May, the Senate passed a strong reform-minded balanced budget package. It’s the only fully balanced budget that exists. It incorporates a litany of elements that Republicans wanted and helped craft. We compromised.

But Senate Republicans were strong-armed by Gov. Rauner to vote against their own proposals — because of politics. Let’s be abundantly clear, however: Democrats in the Senate maintained our level of adult statesmanship by passing the plan that incorporated Republican priorities.

For convenience, we could have joined the circular firing squad that has led to bond rating downgrades and adds billions to the stack of unpaid bills. Instead, we passed a tough, balanced budget — the one Rauner asked for.

That budget awaits the action of the House of Representatives. Nothing will happen if Republicans don’t break ranks with their governor. Bipartisanship is required. Should this plan land on Gov. Rauner’s desk, he must address it.

Rauner has, for almost three years now, chosen to follow the directives of political consultants, polling data and focus groups. In fanning the flames of contempt for government, regional economies burn. The damage done to towns like Macomb, Carbondale and Charleston will require decades of repair. That’s if Rauner stops operating government like it is a corporate business acquisition.

It’s not.

The governor simply needs to support the Senate budget. The hard work of compromise has already been completed. He simply needs to give his trademark thumbs up to this path of sensible, compromised stability.

— Sen. Heather Steans of Chicago is chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations I Committee. Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill is chairman of the Senate Appropriations II Committee.

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