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Our view: The choice is clear, either govern or campaign

By the Editorial Board
updated: 7/15/2017 12:27 PM

Having at last produced a state budget, Illinois' leaders have a choice to make. They can govern, or they can campaign for the 2018 elections. Early indications appear to suggest it will be the latter, and that would be a grave disservice.

Placing himself in the role of "loser" because he didn't get everything he wanted in the budget lawmakers passed over his veto, Gov. Bruce Rauner refers to the budget solely as the "Mike Madigan tax increase."

This in spite of the fact that the document includes Rauner-inspired pension reforms and $3 billion in Republican-sponsored spending cuts -- and, more to the point, in spite of the fact that the 1.2 percentage-point tax increase was originally negotiated by then-Republican Senate Leader Christine Radogno and Democratic Senate President John Cullerton, not House Speaker Michael Madigan.

If anyone should wear the mantle for the tax increase, it is the Senate leaders, but the already demonized Madigan is the easier political target. That's not to call for a pity party for the Democratic speaker. For months Madigan unfailingly has referred to the state's financial situation as the "Rauner budget crisis." Even if one discounts the three decades of Madigan leadership that put Illinois in such a bind, the lack of a state budget these past two years is due as much to Madigan's intransigence as to Rauner's.

If the governor and the speaker truly want to govern, they'll dispense with visceral campaign language and turn instead to the vocabulary, and the practice, of cooperation and leadership.

Rauner certainly is capable of such an approach. During his January state of the state address he turned to President Cullerton and pleaded for Senate leaders to continue with "the very, very difficult" work of finding a budget compromise. The tax increase that was part of that "very, very difficult work" survived the legislative process. So did pension reforms that include a 401(k) option and those Republican spending cuts.

So, there is something here that Republicans can build on, and if they do, it's conceivable we could see property tax relief and workers' compensation reform, among other reforms Democrats acknowledge are needed, within the next year.

But if leaders on both sides wipe their hands and say, "We've got a budget now; let's campaign on whether we should have continued to govern by brinkmanship," nothing of any consequence will get done before January 2019.