7/18/2007 11:02:00 AM Guest column Springfield mess: it's not the process, it's the people
By Sen. DALE RIGHTER For the Daily News
Since the Illinois General Assembly's spring session passed the May 31 deadline and lurched into overtime, a growing chorus of media outlets, special interests and taxpayers are declaring "the system is broken."
That view is certainly understandable, particularly based on what many see in newspaper headlines and 10-second clips on the evening news. The news, after all, is filled with reports of a government that seems intent on doing everything but what is in the best interest of the citizenry. Pay-to-play politics, wasteful and sometimes downright absurd expenditures of taxpayer dollars, and public statements driven more by poll numbers than good policy would seem to be evidence enough that government just doesn't work anymore.
But before we jump off that cliff and into the conclusion that the process that has served our state and nation for generations is broken, we should take a moment to be sure we are distinguishing between that process and the officials who have been elected to govern within that process.
Last fall, just as in 2004 and 2002, voters across Illinois went to the polls and chose Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the Democrat majority to lead Illinois. As far as I know, these elections have been both open and free to registered voters who decided to participate. While I supported neither the governor's election nor the Democrat party's majority in the General Assembly, that is who the voters selected to lead.
The impasse at which we find ourselves today has not been brought about by the process. It has been several years in the making and has been driven largely by those who, though they did not have the money to pay for new spending, spent it anyway. That action, combined with an unwillingness or inability to manage the expenditure of taxpayers' dollars, has placed the state deep into red ink.
The governor, who has spent fewer than 10 nights in Springfield since the session commenced in January, continues to insist that our answers lie in yet another multi-billion dollar increase in taxpayer spending. The Senate President, who belongs to the same party, believes the governor can do little wrong. The Speaker of the House, who happens to also be the chairman of the party to which the Governor and Senate President belong, appears to believe otherwise. Despite having led the charge for the budgets over the last few years that have given us multi-billion dollar deficits, as well as the pension raids of the last two years, the speaker seems now to have concerns about runaway spending. This has caused great consternation on the part of the governor, who believes the speaker is not acting like a "real Democrat."
Free and open elections, and not some "broken process," gave us legislative majorities in both the House and Senate that are of the same political party; a governor of the same party as those legislative majorities; and a Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, and governor who all live in the same city. The governing process, including the respective powers of the General Assembly and the governor, is the same now as it has been in the recent past. It is the same as when Illinois was a leader in the nation on issues such as welfare reform and budget surpluses. It is the same as when Illinois was ranked in the top half of states in terms of job growth, compared to near the bottom today.
As someone who is a front-line participant in these debates, I appreciate and share the frustration this overtime session has brought on, as do my two young boys. But responsibility for the current stalemate cannot be laid at the feet of the "process" nor those who designed it. Those who were elected to lead and set the course of policy in this state have done so in their chosen way, and the results are in - record high spending, deficits, unfunded pension obligations and debt, and anemic job growth.
The problem is not with the system, which has served this and previous generations very well. It is with the people who are leading this state and the decisions they have made. Fortunately and ironically, the process can fix the problem, as long as citizens act to inform themselves on the issues, the records of those asking for their support, and then vote.
As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve.
(Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) represents the 55th District in the Illinois Senate.)