Who You Gonna’ Blame?
It seems I have been pinning the tail on the wrong donkey regarding our state pension mess. For months, I have blamed Michael Madigan and John Cullerton exclusively for the failure of the State Legislature to do—well, anything. They couldn’t pass a bill to legalize same sex marriage. They couldn’t reach an agreement on a gambling expansion proposal. Worst of all, they couldn’t come up with a plan to deal with a nearly $100 billion pension deficit. Cullerton and Madigan presented rival proposals. Madigan’s tougher bill (http://www.scribd.com/doc/138730080/Speaker-Madigan%E2%80%99s-Pension-Proposal) passed the Senate, but the House voted it down. Cullerton said his union-backed bill would pass in the House, but Madigan wouldn’t call it, saying the plan wouldn’t save the state enough money (http://evanstonnow.com/story/government/bill-smith/2013-05-07/56167/five-key-facts-about-union-pension-reform-plan) . Of course, lawmakers blamed the leadership for the impasse, and leadership blamed the governor.
Turns out, there’s plenty of blame to go around and plenty of people to blame, starting with Senator Linda Holmes, Democrat from Aurora. According to a Chicago Tribune editorial (6/14/13), Ms. Holmes delivered a blistering attack on Madigan’s aggressive reform bill, calling it unconstitutional and unfair. She carried on about how State workers and teachers had paid into the pension funds and were being shortchanged, while many of her colleagues cheered. What Holmes failed to mention was that from 2003 to 2006, she and her fellow legislators passed state budgets that shifted money to schools, public transportation, and health care instead of making full pension payments. In two of those years, the pension fund was shortchanged by $2.3 billion dollars, a move Attorney General Lisa Madigan called legal and the House Republican leader called a scam. Holmes responded to the editorial by saying no one cared what the Tribune thought. Well, I’ve got news for her. I care.
Eight years have passed since the diversion began. During all those years when the pension deficit kept growing and party leaders skipped full payments or delayed them, Ms. Holmes voted to approve budgets that ignored the billions of dollars owed to the pension system.
Then there are Republican State Senators Kyle McCarter and Sam McCann, self-described “fiscal conservatives” from central and southern Illinois, who were elected with Tea Party support. McCann voted against every pension reform measure brought to the Senate floor except the Cullerton bill. Likewise McCarter voted against two strict pension reform bills. He was a no-show on the Cullerton vote.
Republican Tea Party partisans don’t have a corner on the obstructionist market. Democratic State Senators Dan Kotowski and Mike Noland have refused to support tough reform bills and, as a result, have jeopardized programs to protect abused and neglected children and programs to reduce unemployment in Illinois. Freshman Democratic Senator Melinda Bush voted against aggressive reform plans while insisting that she was prepared to help citizens by working for serious pension reform change. Members of Democratic Senate President John Cullerton’s leadership team also voted against the Madigan proposal.
A Tribune editorial on June 18 listed all members of the House and Senate who voted “No” on tough pension reform bills and urged their constituents to insist that they stop fiddling while the State burns.
Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, contemplating a run for Governor, made headlines by advising current Governor Pat Quinn to veto any pension plan that doesn’t bring about real reform. He also prodded Attorney General Lisa Madigan to get off the sidelines and offer an opinion on the legality and merit of both the Cullerton and Madigan plans. I’m with him.
Filed under: Living in Interesting Times