Editorial | Secret spending plan an affront to open, honest government

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Pulling fast ones is a longstanding, but unfortunate, practice in Illinois’ legislative process.

There’s a reason why the governor and legislative power-brokers like to dump massive proposals on state legislators at the last minute and then demand a quick vote.

It’s about maintaining the secrecy necessary to prevent the full discussion, debate and deliberation on important pieces of legislation, like the proposed $42 billion state budget that took effect on July 1.

If secrecy is not maintained, all legislators as well as the public will learn what’s really on the table and possibly have the opportunity to mount opposition. If it is maintained, dirty little secrets won’t be revealed until months later when it’s too late to do anything about it.

The Chicago Tribune recently revealed a prime example of this kind of legislative gamesmanship — roughly $2 billion in federal relief funds that were deposited into a special fund to be spent solely at the discretion of Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Somehow, Pritzker and legislative leaders accidentally on purpose failed to mention anything about the $2 billion fund. They should have, of course, but they didn’t.

Here’s why — all legislators would have wanted to have some influence on how the money will be spent, and rightly so. As a separate and co-equal branch of government, the General Assembly plays a vital role in how this state is run. That includes authority — it’s called appropriations power — over how money is spent.

One need not be a hopeless cynic to wonder why the governor sought unilateral control of the $2 billion fund or why Democratic legislative leaders gave it to him. Circumstances support the suspicion that they have reached private agreement as to where and how the money will be spent.

A Pritzker spokeswoman defended this unique approach. She said gubernatorial control over the fund is a plus because it provides the governor needed “flexibility” to adapt to changing federal rules over how the money can be spent.

Well, there is no flexibility like total flexibility.

The problem is that Pritzker was elected governor, not dictator. There are certainly formalities and encumbrances to efficiency in the democratic process. Give-and-take between the executive and legislative branches over spending is one of them.

This being Illinois, the lack of formal review by legislators is hardly the end of the world. Over the years, members of the state House and Senate have played a key role in driving this state into the ground, particularly when it comes to fiscal issues.

Nonetheless, the Legislature is the Legislature, whether collectively incompetent or not.

Superminority Republicans, unsurprisingly, were displeased to learn of the heretofore secret Pritzker fund.

State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, not only complained about the fund but proposed also legislation that would limit Pritzker’s prized flexibility. He’s seeking a legislative declaration that Pritzker inform legislative leaders of his proposed spending plans and obtain legislative approval for them.

It’s a sound proposal. But it’ll go nowhere.

Republicans are irrelevant in Springfield, their principal purpose being to serve as target of supermajority Democrats’ ridicule and disdain.

The bottom line is that it’s business as usual. The $42 billion budget dropped on legislators at the last minute was passed without time for a serious review. Disclosure of the secret fund came months later when it was a fait accompli.

The deed being done, advocates of doing things the Illinois Way win again.

via The News-Gazette

December 5, 2021 at 11:23AM

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