WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Resolving the Illinois Budget Stalemate without Giving In

Oct 28, 2015

The Illinois state budget was due July 1. Four months later it appears that Governor Rauner and Speaker Madigan are locked in a battle of wills with no end in sight.

Capitol Fax reported that both Rauner and Madigan are telling their troops that they are winning the battle of public opinion: each crowing that the other guy is tanking in the polls. But doesn’t that mean they’re both really losing? And, unfortunately, so are we.

State bond ratings are downgraded, state museums are closed, social services are cut, there are no MAP grants for students and state universities struggle to keep their doors open. There’s more pain to come, and Rauner says he doesn’t expect the impasse to be resolved next month either.

Last weekend, I went to see the movie Bridge of Spies. It tells the true story of James Donovan, an ordinary insurance lawyer, who has to single-handedly negotiate a spy swap with the Soviets while we are on the brink of nuclear war. The swap also requires the cooperation of East Germany and has to be negotiated in East Berlin just days after the construction of the Berlin Wall. The circumstances could not have been more complex.

Yet, this extraordinary ordinary man succeeds in crafting an incredibly satisfying agreement.

His negotiation is a good example of a principled interest-focused process.

Martha Klems
Credit Rich Egger

Donovan was able to set aside his ego and focus entirely on the problem. He ignored bad treatment and attempts to intimidate him. He put all his effort into trying to understand the underlying motivations of his East German and Soviet counterparts: what they needed to accomplish, what they were afraid of, the pressures they perceived. By looking at the problem through their eyes, he was able to craft a plan for a 3-way swap that met his interests and appealed to the interests of both the Soviets and the East Germans. No one lost face, cold war tensions were eased, and two Americans and one Russian were released from enemy prisons and returned to their homes.

The method of interest-focused negotiation is the subject of a classic book by Fisher and Ury called “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In”. It’s full of insight and if I were rich I’d send a copy to the Governor and every state legislator.

Rauner and Madigan are taking a positional hard bargaining stance. They’ve staked out strong opposing positions. But focusing on positions tends to be inefficient, increasing the time and cost of reaching agreement. It is also less likely to lead to an optimal agreement: one that includes as much mutual gain as possible and resolves conflicting interests in a fair way.

Fisher and Ury say the key to effective negotiations is to avoid starting with positions.

Instead they recommend that we separate the people from the problem by first focusing on the underlying interests of both sides. Since there may be many different ways to satisfy a particular interest, we can then generate a variety of possible options before deciding exactly what to do. We must also use objective criteria and establish fair methods to resolve conflict as we forge an agreement from the options.

This system gives each side an incentive to craft options that satisfy the interests of the other side too. When conflicts arise, rather than one side having to just “give in” to the other, they can defer to the objective criteria.

Right now Rauner’s position is that his Illinois turn-around agenda must be passed before he’ll work on a budget deal. But the specifics of his plan are widely seen as anti-union, which conflicts with Madigan’s interest in protecting union rights. Madigan’s position is that they should resolve budget issues before doing anything else. But that conflicts with Rauner’s interest in structural change to improve the state’s business climate.

They should call a truce, drop their positions, and focus on those interests as well as their mutual interest to bring state revenues and expenses into balance. There are a lot of different options that could satisfy all those interests. Two smart guys, one an expert in government and one an expert in business, should be able to craft one they can agree on.

Our problem is how to convince them to do it.

Martha Klems is a retired instructor of Computer Science at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio.  Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.