Editorial: The Kids Get It

About a week before the end of this past legislative session, students from St. John Lutheran School in Lombard came to visit me in Springfield. It was great to see and speak with such wonderful and bright children.
 
The people of Illinois are blessed with one of the most beautiful and historic State Capitols in the country, and we had an impromptu question and answer session, on one of the grand staircases in our State Capitol. I was asked to explain the budget impasse facing our state, and so I presented the children with a question: “does 36 equal 32?” (meaning, does the $36 billion that the General Assembly majority wanted to spend last year equal the $32 billion in tax revenue that we took in?) The children, with quizzical looks on their faces, all said, “no!”
 
The schoolchildren understand the problem, even if some of us adults don't quite get it.
 
But little did I know that those budget numbers I discussed with the schoolchildren earlier in the day would change drastically. That night, Speaker Mike Madigan and his majority caucus would pass a bill to spend $40 billion next year, against estimated tax revenues of roughly $33 billion. Yes, the House Majority passed a budget that was $7 billion dollars out of balance.
 
And, that 500-page budget bill was dropped on our desks with roughly an hour to review. The resulting debate and tumult made national news. That night was as close to as I have seen to individuals getting into fisticuffs on the floor of the House. The whole thing had that sense of the federal debate over Health Care reform, where one representative famously said, “you'll have to pass it to find out what is in it.” In the following days, the newspapers and our staff did a more thorough analysis of this budget bill, and it was reported that numerous members of the majority party in the Illinois House had “goodies” for their districts sprinkled throughout the $40 billion plan.
 
A few days later, on the last official day of session, May 31, this severely out of balance budget was voted down in the Senate. One Chicago Democrat even went so far to call Madigan’s budget a “fantasy.” 
 
After all that, I continue to think about those schoolchildren. Our state’s young people are the primary concern for many of us who serve in the General Assembly. But right now, many representatives on my side of the aisle have shared with me their dismay at their children headed out of state for college. These representatives are proud graduates of our state universities, and their children are leaving to attend Mississippi State, University of Missouri, or one of the many other state schools elsewhere. Often, these young people are even paying less for these out of state schools than they would pay at an equivalent state university here.
 
We all know that state government is broken. It’s well past time for representatives from both parties to come together to create a sensible plan to save our state. The people of Illinois, most especially our children, deserve better!