We know there are plenty of problems facing the state of Illinois.
Our roads and bridges need some serious attention. Our public pension system is way underfunded and in dire need of some additional reforms. The state's portion of education funding is inadequate. Some state departments, such as those dealing with prisoners and abused kids, can make a strong case for additional workers. And last but not least, lots of working people in Illinois do not have reliable access to healthcare or health insurance.
Defining the problems is the easy part. The solutions are much more taxing.
But just maybe a glimmer of hope appeared this week - that is if both Speaker of the House Michael Madigan and Gov. Rod Blagojevich can set aside egos and personal agendas long enough to do right by the state.
Unfortunately, the glimmer might also be the sparkle from the fuse being lit to blow the entire budget process to pieces.
We choose to put on our optimistic glasses today. Two developments show real potential for a compromise budget coming together that could serve Illinois well.
First, the governor has accepted that his mega-universal health care plan is not going to be a reality this year. A scaled-down compromise is in the works that could still be beneficial for many Illinoisans currently without health insurance. It would also set the stage for possible future expansion to reach Blagojevich's goal of universal health care.
We have been critical of the governor's Gross Receipts Tax plan that he intended to use to pay for his $3 billion original health plan, but we have never doubted his sincerity in wanting to make medical care available to everyone in the state. It has been a central point of his administration since day 1. It is a laudable goal and one that we believe most people favor - increasingly so as many workers fear their own health insurance is tenuous or may become exceedingly expensive.
Secondly, after a long session and overtime session of his usual mystery man persona, Madigan has finally come out and offered a specific funding solution for matters such as education - raise the income tax. While Blagojevich has taken the brunt of criticism this session, Madigan certainly has been part of the problem. He may not have liked the governor's budget proposal in March, but refusing to meet with Blagojevich until the last week of the regular session smacks of a personal vendetta not public service.
That and the GRT, however, are now water under the bridge. It is time for true compromise. Madigan is asking the governor to support a modest increase in the income tax. Is it a political stunt to put Blagojevich in a corner or to prove that the speaker really is a true, blue Democrat? Frankly, we don't care. But we do think the smartest thing Blagojevich could do now is to acquiesce to Madigan's request - of course, that also means the speaker needs to deliver the votes. In other words, governor, if this is a bluff by Madigan, go ahead and call it.
The income tax is a straightforward approach to paying the state's bills. We know the governor does not favor it, but many other ideas that have been floated are simply backdoor ways into our pocketbooks that sound more politically appealing. People hate taxes. They also hate tricks.
For his part, Madigan needs to get over acting as if health care is not an important issue. The scaled back version of Blagojevich's universal health care plan holds promise for people and businesses faced with impossible insurance costs. The details will unfold soon, and if Madigan is a true, blue Democrat, he will not be simply dismissive.
Compromise is desirable and possible, but it takes movement and maturity on both sides.