The state budget of 57 or 58 or 59 billion -- tough to tell right now -- is the best way to lay out priorities. With such an important bill (because the budget is a bill just like any other piece of legislation, it just has a lot of numbers and dollar signs in it), there should be a lot of time for Members and the public to look it over, suggest amendments and develop a better product.
That's not how it works.
The budget didn't appear to the public until sometime this afternoon. Less than six hours later after first getting filed, the budget had passed both chambers.
That's a bad process.
That's not the way it works in Congress. In D.C., the budget bill moves slowly (sometimes far too slowly) through committees where members 'mark-up' the bill and change the budget in a fairly transparent, public setting. This takes about all year.
There should be some middle ground in Illinois government. There should be a submitted budget bill that is assigned to committee, debated and voted out in March or April. Negotiations between the Governor and the legislative leaders should occur in the public, not behind closed doors.
This isn't anything new in Illinois, but I hope the Democratic leaders might bring the budget process out into the open in 2006.
I really came to understand how closed-off the budget process is this year, as I attempted (quite unsuccessfully, as it turns out) to increase a line-item. Here's what the process seemed like. Imagine two people are playing chess and you're trying to give advice to one of them. They are on the other side of a high brick wall. So you write a note on a piece of paper, crumple it up and toss it over the wall. That's it. You don't know if they read it. You don't know if they are still playing chess. You don't know much of anything. That's the budget process -- for most legislators as well. It ought to be more open.
I don't think there's any policy justification for the mostly secret-negotiation process we use for state budgeting. And I think Governor Blagojevich was right to call for a change on that front. Didn't happen this year, but who knows? Maybe next year. I'm sure that if a majority of members of either caucus decided they wanted a transparent process, they would get one.