It’s times like now that I wonder if anyone wishes the Illinois General Assembly had never made the change to bring their business to a close by the end of May, rather than the old days when the state Legislature had until June 30 to complete its business.
Because of the way the laws operate, the General Assembly had pressure on it to approve a balanced budget for state government for the upcoming fiscal year while also trying to figure out how to close the potential shortfall totaling in the billions of dollars.
AN INCOME TAX hike? Sales taxes on all kinds of differing services? More casinos and other legalized gambling, which would make completely legal many of the activities that sheriffs across the state now do to show they’re protecting our morality?
The legislature had until 11:59 p.m. Sunday to figure it out, because the moment that the clock ticked Midnight, Illinois would regard it as Monday, June 1. That is the legal deadline by which the lawmakers are supposed to be complete.
Nobody wants to go through the ordeal of 1988 when the clock suddenly stopped at 11:59 p.m. on June 30 so that the deal to have the state construct what is now known as U.S. Cellular Field could pass with a simple majority (some hard-core ranters insist to this day that the White Sox deal passed illegally at 12:03 a.m. on July 1). Back in the days of this early 20th Century postcard, this weekend's legislative headaches wouldn't have occurred for another month.
If they’re not, they face the penalty of needing a larger majority (60 percent) in order to approve anything that needs to take effect immediately.
IN SHORT, THE same legislators who can’t even get a simple majority would have to get even more people to agree. And the Democrats who can’t agree on anything among themselves would now have to make serious concessions to Republican legislators to get some of their support.
The only reason I can’t hear your chuckling at the thought of bipartisan compromise in today’s political world is because it’s being drowned out by my own hysterical laughter.
It wasn’t always like this.
There used to be a time when May 31 was just another date. Those were the days when the General Assembly configured its schedule each year so that June 30 would be the scheduled end of the spring legislative session.
I WAS ONE of the reporter-types at the Statehouse in Springpatch back when the change was made to move things up one month. And I remember the real reason for this change.
“Pate” Philip wanted it that way.
That is one-time Illinois Senate President James “Pate” Philip, R-Wood Dale, who went through his career on the Statehouse scene thinking it a waste that the Legislature couldn’t have the entire summer back in their home districts.
So when he worked his way up to the leadership position in the 1990s, one of the changes he got the General Assembly to make was to shift the legislative schedule. Instead of having a state Legislature work from mid-March through June, they now work roughly from late January through May.
The amount of time lawmakers spend at the Statehouse is similar. It is just done at a slightly different time of the year.
BUT IF THINGS were done the way they used to be in Springfield, Sunday would not have been a “drop dead” date. Heck, legislators wouldn’t have even been in Springfield on Sunday.
The “work around the clock every day of the week and weekend” period that comes at the end of every legislative session would be about three weeks off.
Now as I noted earlier in this commentary, June 30 used to be the relevant date. It wasn’t until July 1 that the higher majority for approval would kick in.
To my mind, there was a logic to that date – one that will always exist and that can never apply to May 31.
FOR ILLINOIS GOVERNMENT operates on a calendar from July 1 through June 30. As far as the people at the Statehouse and at the Thompson Center in Chicago are concerned, 2010 has only 30 days remaining.
What we will think of as the coming of Independence Day holiday weekend will be thought of by state government junkies as New Year’s Day and the beginning of 2011.
That was the reason for the higher standard for approving measures. It was to discourage people from trying to do “this year’s” business in the early moments of “next year.” It made sense to respect June 30 as something significant.
By comparison, May 31 is just another date on the calendar. It’s a shame that it has gained any significance and caused our legislators some pressure.
NOT THAT I expect anyone to seriously think of restoring the Legislature’s deadline to June 30. I’d sooner expect the National League to voluntarily implement the Designated Hitter rule.
But it would be nice to know that there was one more month of time to try to seriously review the state’s financial problems – rather than try to cram some sort of makeshift political solution that accomplishes nothing for the public good.
Be honest. That is what will happen this year, regardless of what the Legislature winds up doing. As of when I’m writing this commentary Sunday night, I don’t know how the situation will be resolved. I doubt the legislators do either.
Of course, there is one possibility.
THAT OUR LEGISLATORS are so worthless that not even one more month would accomplish anything, except us having this exact same discussion on June 30 instead of May 31.
You may be right about that assumption. But that is a subject for future commentary.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Any attempt by me to come up with a detailed analysis of whatever half-cocked attempt at compromise the General Assembly wound up approving late Sunday while sitting at a laptop computer some 200 miles away would have been absurd. If you really need to know the details of whether or not the Legislature was able to do anything and finish "the people's business" for the spring, check out Capitol Fax (http://thecapitolfaxblog.com/).