The Players: Illinois' Self-Improvement Plan

Jan 7, 2016

Credit Creative Commons

It's a week into the New Year, and gyms across the country are packed with people who've vowed to get in shape. Our Statehouse Bureau Chief Amanda Vinicky had resolved to be one of them, but admits that already, she's fallen short. Maybe Illinois' leaders will have better luck. Vinicky asked around for their civic-minded resolutions.

No matter your political persuasion, given the stalemate that's gripping the state, we can all agree that Illinois could use some self-improvements.

Maybe giving lawmakers some New Year’s resolutions would help. Having a goal helps you stick to it, right? Seems I'm not the only one who had this thought.

Talking with reporters the other day, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel offered that he had one for his buddy, Gov. Bruce Rauner. "You know I had a New Year’s Resolution for the governor, because we had a conversation right before holidays, wishing each other well, and their families and time,” Emanuel said. “That was that: he'd be able as a governor to have his first budget passed before he had to deliver his second budget address in February. And my hope is that that will be true, okay?"

That'd give Rauner until Feb. 17; by then Illinois will have gone seven-and-a-half months without a state budget.

I haven't had the chance to ask the governor in person his New Year’s resolution (his press office declined my request to share one), but just before Christmas, during a brief media Q&A, after Rauner's spokeswoman said it was time to wrap up, after the last question, I snuck in one more, and asked him: "What are you asking for, for Christmas?"

Rauner initially laughed, but after a bit of prodding, he answered “peace and prosperity for Illinois,” before walking away wishing we reporters happy holidays.

Asking around about resolution, getting a budget, was, as you may suspect, a popular response. Like, Director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education James Applegate, who said his wish was that “we will pass a 2016 budget by Jan. 31 and we will have a 2017 budget in place, on time that adequately supports education."

As with so many resolutions – I’ll point to my own experience as a prime example - that one may be easier said than done. Still, Republican Rep. Avery Bourne, of Raymond, is trying to stay optimistic.

"I think what's on everyone's mind is to get a budget, but I think that with the New Year hopefully we can be more cooperative and have more productive discussions. So doing my part to further that in the district and on the state level is my number 1 goal," she said.

If Bourne's better than me at keeping her *personal* New Year’s resolution, come next year, she'll have a good chronicle of how it turns out: "I have made a personal resolution to journal more, because I think in 20 years, I think I'm really going to want to look back and remember all of this craziness."

When lawmakers do get things done, Sen. Kwame Raoul resolves to do better telling the public about it. Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, says after a video was released showing a Chicago police officer shooting teenager Laquan McDonald, people complained that lawmakers hadn't done anything to reform law enforcement practices.

"Notwithstanding the fact that a couple of months earlier the governor had signed a (sic) omnibus law enforcement reform bill. It's not a cure-all. But it is something that reflects that we, collectively as a legislature and a government recognized this as a problem before these particular issues came to light,” Raoul said.

Raoul also says better communication - with his fellow lawmakers - could help more to get accomplished. Partisan, and regional divides, he admits, make that challenging.

"My top governmental resolution would be to more intentionally do things to expand my bipartisan and multi-regional relationships. Get to know more personally some of my colleagues who I haven't had the opportunity to spend time with,” he said.

Former Republican State Senator Dan Cronin -- now Chairman of the DuPage County Board -- says he hopes Illinois leaders can come together for the greater good. "We didn't elect gladiators. We elected leaders. We elected people to find common ground and to move the state of Illinois forward. We don't seek perfection but I want to see some improvement in 2016."

And that will take cooperation; Kim Maisch, who's with the National Federation of Independent Businesses, says too many Illinois residents are out of work, and the economy needs to be revived.

"We tend to go to our own corners, and not worry about the whole state. We worry about our own little corners. So I guess my resolution for the General Assembly and for the Governor -- and for all of us -- is to make Illinois great again,” she said.

The damage caused by not having a budget is tragic, says Robin Steans, who recently stepped down as director of the education advocacy group Advance Illinois. Steans says Illinois needs certainty, and fiscal stability going forward, starting with getting a budget in place for this year.

"And I think that every legislator, I think that all of our elected officials, ought to resolve for that to be their number one priority to get that done, and to get that done before the month is out,” she said. "And the rest of us should resolve to make as much noise as we know how until that gets done."