Last week, two state Senate staffers were allegedly caught – gasp -— drinking beer in the Capitol.
The surprising thing is that both were arrested.
While it is illegal to drink alcohol in the Capitol Building, I’ve never heard of the measure being enforced. Ever.
Booze is found throughout the Illinois statehouse. When I had an office in the statehouse pressroom, lobbyists and lawmakers would routinely drop by a nearby bureau to get cold beers or shots of whiskey.
In fact, I can think of at least two former state senators who kept kitchen-size refrigerators in their statehouse Senate offices packed with booze. Fellow lawmakers, lobbyists and others would congregate in their offices to imbibe between votes.
On at least one occasion I saw a Chicago-area lawmaker drunk in the House chamber to the point she barely was coherent. Interestingly enough, she was a social conservative who courted the religious right and was known for the anti-abortion legislation she would sponsor.
Substance abuse knows no political, philosophical, social or religious boundaries.
At this point, you are either appalled or asking why I’m such a stick in the mud.
And, yes, in case you are wondering, I don’t drink. But I don’t care if someone drinks on their own time.
That said, I’ve never had an employer that was ok with employees drinking on the job. Have you?
And there is the rub. These lawmakers are our employees.
There is a pervasive sense of entitlement among many legislators that says the rules just don’t apply to them.
It can manifest itself in small ways, like carrying a case of beer into the statehouse past the building’s security, or in big ways such as approving a budget that is billions of dollars out of whack.
Just as there is a state law prohibiting booze in the statehouse, there is a provision in the state constitution requiring a balanced budget. Admittedly, it is vaguely written and lacks any enforcement provision.
But the rule is still there. And widely ignored.
The budget introduced by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and approved by the legislature this past week is held together by chewing gum and baling wire.
For example, it’s called “balanced” even though it relies on borrowing $5 billion from the Federal Reserve and plans on spending $1.1 billion from a tax hike that hasn’t even gone before the voters yet.
There is no guarantee voters will approve the progressive income tax in November. And even if they do, it is doubtful that during a recession it would generate the kind of dollars the budget depends on it for.
Unlike other states, Illinois lawmakers have avoided making tough decisions about spending cuts. That’s hardly a new phenomenon. Year after year, Illinois has spent more than it has taken in. Both Republican and Democratic administrations bear responsibility for making the state the fiscal basket case of the nation.
But even after all those decades of mismanagement, I’ve yet to see so egregious a spending plan as the one legislators passed this month.
Inevitably there will be some legal contortionists who will claim this budget that relies on borrowing and a tax that hasn’t even been approved constitutes a balanced budget.
To that I can only ask: “What have you been drinking?”
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.