No is the answer for those of you who may have wondered whether I stopped writing this column. I could give some weak-kneed excuses about being busy (true), getting stuck in O’Hare Airport for 13 hours (true) or a hundred other things. Unfortunately, they would just be excuses. I apologize.

I believe the next few months will be the most difficult the Jackson County Legislature has dealt with in many years. I feel this way because I do not believe the signs of economic recovery that some are trumpeting.

There are many reasons to doubt a quick turnaround. First, because of fear many people have adjusted their spending priorities. It doesn’t matter what a car costs if people have decided to drive the old one for an extra two years. Second, federal taxes seem sure to rise, and this will pull money out of the private sector. Companies that want to borrow to build a new shipping center or office building will have a tough time doing so.

The county has already seen a decline in sales tax revenues, property taxes will be down because nearly all real estate has declined in value, and all of this must be dealt with in next year’s budget. Departments that have already cut many needed services and employees will be hard pressed to deal with these cuts.

And, unfortunately, we are not like a business that can just “close a branch” and go on. It’s not like we can just cut off sheriff patrols for southeast Jackson County or only fix the right side of roads and bridges or only put half of all convicted wrongdoers in jail. Government has specific services it must render, and render to everyone. What good does it do to have a court system that doesn’t have all the necessary tools to render “justice?”

This means the 2010 budget process will be the most painful I have been involved with in my years in public service. Everyone will have a good and true reason that they should be fully funded. Most will be correct.

And ultimately the Legislature will have to say aye or nay. Hold on, it’s going to be a rough ride.