We’ll Meet In The Middle

I’m going to start this column off on a positive note before we talk about some of the issues going on in Springfield.  How about those Forreston Cardinals?  State Champions again for the second time in three years.  I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that we have one of the best athletic conferences in the state here in Northwest Illinois.  We are proud of our student athletes, and we are especially proud that a local team has once again become state champions.  Congratulations to Forreston High School!

Now on to some less than happy news... You all know the story of Illinois’ fiscal troubles: politicians made promises they couldn’t keep and now we find ourselves trying to dig out of a chasm armed with only a spoon.  Our chickens have certainly come home to roost, and there’s no way around the inevitable.  It’s time to tighten our belts just like many of you have done with your family budgets during this rough patch in the American economy.

Here are the facts: our liabilities far outweigh our assets, and right now we are threatened by a brain drain that is only worsened by an outward net migration to taxpayer-friendly states.  It doesn’t matter the political party with which you identify because these are irrefutable facts.  We face some serious challenges, and only by taking a serious approach to the budget will we ever find our way out of this mess.

The state of Illinois needs to learn to be a responsible adult, and sometimes that means knowing when to say “No.”  There is never – and will never – be any shortage of good government programs that are fueled by the best of intentions, but we are past the point of funding programs that aren’t absolutely necessary.

In my opinion, we need to focus our efforts on funding the most vital programs: education, healthcare, necessary human services, public safety and retirement obligations.  It is imperative that we focus on maintaining as many existing programs as possible.  Any discussion of additional programs only adds complications to the most vulnerable among us who absolutely need help.

That’s where I stand, and for the most part, that’s where Governor Rauner stands.  The other side has made their stance pretty clear.  I like to think of their approach as Oprah Winfrey handing out prizes for her studio audience. “You get a car! You get a car! And you get a car!” Or in this case: “Here’s a new program! Here’s a new program! And here’s a new program!”

So that’s where the two sides stand.  Are we far apart?  Absolutely.  Are we too far apart to where some sort of compromise can’t be reached?  Absolutely not.  In my experience, there is always common ground that can be found.

It is paramount that we seek some form of compromise immediately.  The temporary stopgap spending plan is set to expire, and there is no budget in sight.  One thing that I can say to you, my constituents, is that I have been applying pressure on my fellow members to find a long lasting solution to the budget crisis.  I would hope and trust that members on the other side are doing the same with their leadership.  We need a solution, and we need it now!

I was encouraged to hear that the Governor and legislative leaders have agreed to serious meetings on the budget.  Unfortunately, Speaker Madigan does not appear to be taking these meetings seriously.  We learned that Speaker Madigan did not attend the first scheduled meeting.  Then when he was asked about the fact he missed the meeting, he inexplicably lashed out at the Senate Minority leader for spending Thanksgiving with her family and the Governor because he took a few days off.  Is this really how we are going to act when the fate of our state’s budget is on the line? 
As I write this from Springfield, it is unclear whether these meetings will take place or whether the Speaker will try to run out the clock with powerless working groups that have not been able to reach any sort of compromise.  The practice of sending proxies in his stead needs to end immediately.  I hope and trust that the Speaker will actually decide to meet and negotiate in good faith with the Governor.  Our sides are miles apart, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find a road to compromise.

If I can share just one message with my friends on the other side of the aisle, I would share with them some folksy wisdom from one of my favorite country songs.  As Diamond Rio once sang: “I’ll start walking your way, you start walking mine, we’ll meet in the middle, ‘neath that old Illinois pine, we gain a lot of ground, when we both give a little, there ain’t no road too long, when you meet in the middle.”

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at repstewart@gmail.com.  You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.