Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The slow-motion train wreck

Here's how bad things look: the following counts as a possible end game. There is more  speculation about a judicial "solution" to the crisis. The solution--something I blogged about before but with less informative links--is that the courts rule that Illinois has no legal authority to pay employees. Or perhaps it is required, by federal law, to pay essential employees the federal minimum wage. But Illinois' payroll system is so obsolete that it can't figure out who's essential, or how to pay them only the federal minimum. In any event, if the courts rule this way, the whole thing comes to a screeching halt. And at that point we have to have a budget, as the state would be lucky even to keep the jails locked in that case. But of course the courts work slowly, so any such ruling is months away.

There's also somewhat more rosy speculation about how Republicans in the House could solve things without that trainwreck, again from Capitol Fax. It would only take a few votes to sustain a veto override. But don't hold your breath.

One of the most frustrating things about the crisis is that many aspects of state government are going along more or less as usual (K-12, for example). It's this that has allowed things to go on this far. I don't begrudge the funding that is allowing my son to go to school. But other parts of state government are going under. Those include some vital social services, like those attempting to address the epidemic of drug use, and also our public universities.

The report on regional universities I covered yesterday also happened to mention, while bewailing cuts to state support nationwide, that Illinois led all 50 states in enrollment declines at public universities from 2009 to 2013, with the truly impressive figure of 17.9%. So we'd lost almost one in five students even before the Rauner crisis--lost in large part thanks to widespread lack in faith in the State of Illinois. Even should we get a decent budget in the next month or two, it is hard to imagine that overall enrollment in Illinois public universities won't end up down by something on the order of 25% to 30% from our 2009 figures. Many of those students went out of state; others won't go to college at all. Illinois loses either way.

Tremendous damage has already been done. Even if we get a budget, we're going to spend the next couple of years picking up the pieces, facing pressure to eliminate programs, redefine faculty workloads, etc.

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