Illinois Legislative Session Wrap Up

-By Warner Todd Huston

So, once we get past the vague, gut feeling that not much was done in this past legislative session, we can look over the last several months and assess what Springfield done for us all. As the state was distracted by yet another trial for Rod Blagojevich (this time a successful one) our elected officials were at loggerheads on many issues. But with the Democrats having such a hammerlock on power, most everything went their way. And, in some cases “their way” was no way at all.

For instance, the general assembly once again failed to address pension reform. Like the Sword of Damocles, the pension mess hangs over the heads of every single citizen of Illinois. Sadly, we cannot blame only the Democrats, here, as there has been a complete lack of political will (and courage) on both sides of the aisle to take on this issue. In fact, many of the problem legislators are those Republicans whose districts have a large population of state workers and are swayed by the government unions to which they belong.

Some think the pension mess will be brought up during the coming veto session. There is no timeline for such an action, though.

Oddly, State GOP leaders failed on another issue, one that should have been right in their wheelhouse: workers comp reform. Interestingly, an issue near and dear to the business community went down for the count by foot dragging Republicans and it took a united effort by Democrats to get it passed. The bill actually failed in the House the first time due to a dearth of support by Republicans. The speaker of the house, Democrat leader Michael Madigan, came to the rescue, though, and got it over the hump.

The legislature did pass an education reform bill, but it was pretty lite on the “reform” part. The passed bill doesn’t really do much to address the problems endemic in the Illinois educational system. It also does not cut much spending.

Speaking of spending, in a day when states across the country are successfully cutting spending and fixing their in-the-red budgets, Illinois once again failed to measure up to the rest of the country. The Democrats and Governor Quinn tried to claim that spending was cut, but it is starting to look like this is worse than a fib. It looks like spending has actually increased with this Capitol Bill deal. The legislature did not address the unfunded liabilities, the huge pile of unpaid bills, or the pension troubles. Not only are there no clearly articulated funding sources, but Quinn still wants to raise taxes even after the huge tax increase we suffered just last year.

While there was some talk of instituting new spending and budget procedures — like a Truth in Accounting bill — nothing serious came out of it.

One thing, though, most certainly “got done,” if you will. At least Republicans feel like they “got done” with it, anyway.

Redistricting was accomplished and signed by Governor Quinn and the map approved really does a bang up job disenfranchising GOP voters, as well as, in many people’s opinion, Hispanic voters in the Land of Lincoln. Both the state map and the map governing federal representation decimate the few GOP strongholds that are left. The new map pits Republican candidates against each other and strengthens Democrat districts everywhere.

Because the Hispanic vote lost some power, the Illinois GOP thinks that it may have at least one way to take the map to court and fight this blatantly partisan slaughter-fest. If this map stands it will take the Illinois GOP decades to come back from the blow.

Redistricting challenges, though, do not have a big history of success in the courts, so good luck to the Ill. GOP on this one.

In the end, here, what we see is a legislative session that did not address the most important issues. As Joe Calomino, State Director of the Illinois chapter of Americans for Prosperity says,

All in all it was a very marginal session especially when there was so much potential and need to accomplish the types of reforms necessary to move the state forward. Clearly, there must be a continued effort to educate and empower free-market, grassroots troops to combat the ever increasing power of labor and influence of special interests groups over the political process in Illinois.

As far as fixing some of the state’s worst problems, the Illinois General Assembly is starting to sound a bit like too many of Chicago’s sports teams. Wait until next time.

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