Anatomy of a Shutdown

as published in the July 1, 2015 Chicago Defender

 

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Today most likely, Illinois will experience its first shutdown in recent memory.  While Illinoisans experienced extended legislative overtime sessions during the Blagojevich era, they pale in comparison to what we can expect in the case of an actual shutdown.  At issue is how the state of Illinois will do business during the Rauner era.  Democrats insist that a revenue (tax) increase is the only way to fiscal solvency, while Rauner insists on a series of reforms before he will consider any form of revenue (tax) increase.

This battle plays out in Springfield in the form of the state budget, which must be balanced and approved before July 1st.  If the budget is not approved by then, state funds may not be allocated to pay for non-essential services that the state needs to operate, causing what is commonly refer to as a “shutdown.”   In the past, the Illinois General Assembly has been able to leave that responsibility to the Governor, by passing a budget to fund the state government, leaving the Governor to decide what to keep or cut, making the Governor as the bad guy.  The Illinois General Assembly passed a budget May 31, but Governor Rauner refused to sign it, calling it a “phony” budget.

Since then the Illinois General Assembly has been convening in Springfield every Tuesday since session officially adjourned May 31st, voting on and defeating a variety of the Governor’s proposed reforms.  With Democratic super-majorities in both statehouses and the Governor having a strangle hold on Republican Party of Illinois in general, this boils down to a battle of the wills between longtime Speaker of the House Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Governor Bruce Rauner.  But for either to win the war they will need the assistance of some, they will need help from some other key players.

 

Black impacts of a shutdown

 

While Rauner has proposed a long list of cost saving measures, if the General Assembly does not present a balanced budget, things like Medicaid redeterminations, the suspension of Medicaid payments to “some” hospitals, while defunding initiatives such as YouthBuild, Chicago Area Project, and childcare assistance to low income families will be severely impacted.

“The African American community typically suffers more in terms of economic disparity and access to resources, in general. This shut down will be no different in that our community will beara disproportionate amount of the negative consequences of ending state dollars to key human service programs” Dr. Litesa Wallace,  (D-Rockford, Vice-Chairman of the House Human Services Committee.)

In addition to suspension of services, a shutdown also means that state workers in non-essential positions will not be working, meaning they will not receive a paycheck.   Because Blacks are represented at higher levels in the state government than in the private sector and tend to be middle class, the impact of a shutdown threatens more than the just the low income Black communities.  If the government shutdown goes longer than a few weeks, those missed paychecks will start to affect the ability to pay mortgages, take summer vacations, or pay for summer childcare costs. A protracted shutdown could exhaust the savings of Black state workers and make for a very uncomfortable summer.

Rauner and Madigan in a high stakes game of “Chicken”

The reality is this is a battle to see who will blink first, Gov. Rauner, the ultimate money player in Illinois politics or Speaker Madigan, the ultimate power player in the state.  Also in the mix is Democratic Senate President John Cullerton, the third power in the Springfield triumvirate, though he has decidedly less power and influence than Madigan. Then add Democratic Chicago Mayor and Rauner confidant Rahm Emanuel, making it difficult to keep the alliances straight.

Known as a brutal game, Madigan is the undisputed champion of Illinois state politics.  In Springfield, the rule is “Madigan Wins,” and his reputation, fundraising prowess, and ability to win tough legislative races have made few, if any willing to take him on directly, except for Gov. Rauner, who seems to have a personal vendetta against Madigan.  In fact, some have speculated that Rauner’s desire to beat Madigan is so strong that he is willing to shut the state down to do it.

Madigan for his part remains unflappable in the face of Rauner’s unprecedented attacks; such as the TV ad campaign Rauner released attacking Madigan.  Madigan has called the TV spots “unproductive” in trying to work out a deal.

As the two leaders battle it out, with no end in sight, the roles of Cullerton, Emanuel, and the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus become more important the longer the shutdown lasts.

 

Role Players

 

Senate President Cullerton

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) is the junior leader in the General Assembly, and presides over a Chamber whose members been known to have much more autonomy than their counterparts in the House.  Because of this Cullerton has developed a reputation as a master negotiator and respected dealmaker. Even Rauner has avoided attacking Cullerton, going out of his to avoid criticizing him by name or in commercials as he has done with Madigan.

Cullerton is the key to breaking the stalemate between the two titans, and if he can negotiate the truce, he stands to reap the benefits of having a good working relationship with the Governor’s office, meaning more projects in his members’ districts, which could also go a long in solidifying his power base for years to come.

 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

It is no secret in local political circles that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Bruce Rauner are good friends and confidants.  So much so that Rauner is credited with assisting Emanuel in becoming a millionaire during his brief time in the private sector.  Rauner was also one of Emanuel’s top campaign contributors further connecting the two.  The two also made history together when Rauner became the first Illinois governor to address a full meeting of the Chicago City Council.

As a prolific national fundraiser, Emanuel has more in common with Rauner and his group of elite high dollar contributors than Speaker Madigan. As recently as Monday, Rauner announced a plan for the state to provide $450 million in funding to CPS after the Madigan led House voted against a bill that would have provided Emanuel with the funds to open CPS schools on time.  Rauner came through for Rahm, when he needed him, expect reciprocation.

 

Where does that leave the Black Community?

With Emanuel on board and able to lobby Cullerton, Rauner is working to crack the House, threatening to spend up to $1 million per candidate to unseat House Democrats.  This puts a lot of pressure on House Black Caucus members, who are in solidarity with the Speaker; however, if the shutdown lasts an extended amount of time the pressure will build for Black legislators to make the best deal for the Black community, which is clearly an uncomfortable position for Black lawmakers.

“There’s no way to make a business case for shutting down government. Vital services to vulnerable populations that have nowhere else to turn creates unprecedented levels of angst and desperation in all of our communities,” said Illinois House Assistant Majority Leader Jehan Gordon (D-Peoria.)

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