12/03/16 - CRAIN'S EDITORIAL: Nothing brings pols together like a bailout

By: CRAIN'S EDITORIAL BOARD

Since Bruce Rauner became governor in 2015, Illinois has set a dubious record: enduring the longest budget stalemate in the nation.

And, right on schedule, lawmakers just dropped the ball again in Springfield, skipping town on Dec. 1 without passing a budget for the year ahead. They also allowed the stopgap budget worked out at midyear to unravel, as Democrats reneged on their commitment to come up with a pension reform deal and the governor, in turn, vetoed the Chicago Public Schools bailout tied to that reform.

So our elected leaders have now blown a $215 million hole into the CPS budget, we haven't gotten the promised revamp of public employee pensions, and we roll into 2017 with little hope that we'll see a state budget, much less a balanced one, until well after the next gubernatorial election. Meanwhile, Illinois faces a projected $13 billion deficit, according to new calculations from the University of Illinois' Institute of Government & Public Affairs.

Shakin' up Springfield, eh?

Well, the Do-Nothing Gang did manage to get one thing done before calling it quits: Lawmakers passed a nifty bit of corporate welfare—a bailout of two unprofitable downstate nuclear plants for the benefit of their Chicago-based owner, Exelon, a corporation that posted $2.3 billion in profit last year.

The legislation, which Rauner promises to sign into law, would hike electricity rates throughout Illinois to provide Exelon with more than $200 million a year over the next decade to keep its money-losing Clinton and Quad Cities plants running. As Crain's Senior Reporter Steve Daniels has noted, the billions in surcharges over the next decade to support nuclear power, as well as the renewable energy and efficiency programs rolled into this bill, amount to the biggest state energy action since Illinois deregulated its power market in 1997.

The bill passed over the objections of groups like the Illinois Manufacturers' Association and to the cheers of environmentalists and folks worried about jobs in the affected towns. But what of the economic impact of jacking up businesses' power rates? Where are the bailouts for other communities laid low by plant closures? Where's the bailout for human services providers getting stiffed by Springfield?

The governor's team actively worked to craft the Exelon bailout. Too bad the only time Rauner and Democrats in the General Assembly found common cause, it was to do the state harm.