The mighty struggle underway over the Illinois state budget is eerily similar to the game of chess. The comparison is both apt and sad.
The opponents are the entrenched Democrats, led by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, versus first-year Gov. Bruce Rauner and the minority Republicans. They represent the kings, queens, knights, bishops and rooks on the chess board.
And the 12.8 million other Illinoisans? Well, if you’ve ever felt like a pawn in the great budgetary battle, join the club.
In chess, pawns are manipulated to advance the interests of the major pieces. Pawns don’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. They are routinely imperiled and sacrificed to benefit the more powerful chess pieces.
Likewise, in the budget battle, average citizens are manipulated to advance the interests of the politicians. If the public is imperiled by budgetary proposals and brinksmanship, it’s no real concern to the leadership class.
The object of chess is to use one’s intelligence and experience to defeat the opponent.
The same goes for politics, which unfortunately carries over into governance, and which is the crux of the budget battle: Will the state continue to live beyond its means, or not?
The budget approved by the Democrats would spend $3 billion to $4 billion more than it takes in. Democratic leaders did that on purpose to pressure Rauner to approve tax increases to cover the difference.
For his part, Rauner doesn’t like the chronic overspending, vetoed most of the budget Thursday and awaits the arrival of Democrats at the bargaining table to negotiate for what he wants: some “pro-business” legislation and structural reforms to government that would weaken Democrats’ stranglehold on power.
He previously announced more than $800 million in temporary cuts that are set to kick in with the new fiscal year that starts Wednesday.
What are the pawns’ roles in all of this? Average Illinoisans have spoken up about how proposed budget cuts would negatively affect them. Some have done so on their own; others have been trotted out by politicians. Either way, their stories are compelling.
Senior citizens, the poor, those with physical and mental disabilities and others who rely on state funding are imperiled. The uncertainty is difficult to bear.
In chess, pawns do have one golden opportunity to triumph. If a pawn can advance to the end of the board, it wins a powerful promotion and gains great influence. The opposing player tries to stop that from happening at all costs.
In Illinois’ budgetary endgame, Illinoisans must put politicians in check and exert their combined influence to demand fiscal prudence and the best interests of the people be part of the new budget.
For politicians who just don’t get it, the public can deal with them next election.