The power of the purse is a principle of democratic government established after English Civil War, when Parliament stopped King Charles II from flouncing off on military adventures by stripping him of the authority to levy taxes.
Sorry, Charlie, the House of Commons said. If you want money, you’re going to have to ask us. We cut off your father’s head because he raised taxes without our permission.
It was codified in the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress, not the president, the power to raise and spend money.
Now, the Illinois General Assembly is about to throw out this hard-won check on executive power, because it’s better for the governor to take the heat for unpopular budget cuts than to pin the blame on 177 legislators.
Quinn is offering himself as the state’s strongman, and legislators seem eager to surrender their power to him. They don’t want to vote on cutting funds to education, domestic abuse prevention and prisons. It’s an election year. And in an election year, shirking tough decisions is more important than preserving the hard-fought principle that the people’s representatives should control spending. We’re $13 billion in the hole. There’s only one man who can save us, and he’s wearing a ‘G’ on his chest!
“The only way we are going to get the cuts we need is for the governor to do it,” the governor said. “We are in an economic emergency in this state. Both parties are reluctant to make cuts. I am not reluctant to do what has to be done for the taxpayers. I did it last year.”
A brave man seizing power in an emergency is a popular way to get things done in Latin America, but it doesn’t have a track record in Illinois. Quinn is using this budget crisis to turn us into the world’s first Soybean Republic.
As for the English Civil War and the American Revolution, which were waged to prevent stuff like this from happening? Those were fought by people with courage. Not Illinois legislators.