As Wisconsin voters delivered a message last week that they’d had enough of bloated compensation packages for tens of thousands of government workers, Illinois’ top officials delivered their own message to voters:
Take a flying leap!
That’s my PG-rated interpretation, anyway.
What else could be made of the results of a closed-door meeting between Gov. Pat Quinn, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno and House Minority Leader Tom Cross.
The aforementioned emerged from Wednesday’s meeting on Illinois’ public pension crisis with no solutions and no indication that a solution was coming.
Never mind that our bloated and massively underfunded public pension systems are the No. 1 roadblock to Illinois getting out of its fiscal mess.
Or that lawmakers just the week before ended their 2012 regular session with no agreement on how to fix our five statewide public pension systems – systems that are underfunded by more than $83 billion and take a bigger bite out of the operating budget each year because of the automatic, compounded cost-of-living increase that public pensioners receive annually.
While Wisconsin is getting its fiscal house in order under the leadership of Gov. Scott Walker and with the support of taxpayers who’ve had enough, Illinois – already with one of the worst credit ratings in the country – risks further damaging that rating and its ability to provide necessary services under the failed leadership of Quinn, Madigan, et.al ...
In the meantime, the state’s most vulnerable residents pay the price.
As we’ve reported in recent weeks on our news pages, Family Service and Community Mental Health Center of McHenry is closing its doors later this month because of its own financial problems. Its closure will leave a huge service gap for up to 6,000 local residents struggling with mental illness and drug dependency.
The McHenry County Mental Health Board and other social service agencies are working diligently to fill those gaps, but it will be impossible to meet the needs of every client. There’s not enough time or resources. The ramifications, sadly, will be felt communitywide.
Family Service’s financial problems are partly – though not exclusively – the result of the deadbeat status of our state government. As of late May, the state Comptroller’s Office said Illinois social service agencies were owed $329 million by the state for services already provided. About $800,000 of that was owed to Family Service. The backlog of bills, some more than six months past due, is a deliberate attempt by our government to save money for itself by pushing off paying bills to others.
And Family Service is far from the only Illinois service provider that is collapsing. Another example is the Counseling Center of Lake View, a Chicago-based mental health services provider, which closed at the end of April for similar reasons, according to The Associated Press.
So while Quinn, Madigan and company continue to pretend they want pension reform, McHenry County’s mentally ill fall through the cracks.
Walker and Wisconsin voters are leading the charge to fiscal reform.
Illinois should follow closely behind, but I won’t hold my breath.
• • •
Speaking of breath: I’ve taken a few deep ones. With rants like the above, it’s no wonder I’ve been on blood pressure medicine much of my adult life.
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What would you ask?: We all have an opportunity to improve our state government by voting in November. Of course, we detailed last week how far too many countywide and state races are uncontested.
But for the races that will be contested, the Northwest Herald’s Editorial Board soon will begin putting a list of questions together to ask candidates.
As we do each election cycle, we will send candidates our questionnaires, and we will invite them in to meet with members of our Editorial Board. The meetings are videotaped and responses to individual questions placed on our Election Central page at NWHerald.com, along with the questionnaire answers.
In all, voters can read and view candidates’ responses to more than a dozen questions before the Nov. 6 election.
But what should we ask them? If you have a question that you think is pertinent to any of the races, send me an email, give me a call or comment on this column online. My contact information is below.
If we agree that your question is pertinent, we’ll use it.
• • •
Readers choice: You’re not going to want to miss our annual Best of the Fox special section that is included inside today’s edition.
Northwest Herald readers chose their favorite local businesses in 153 categories, from local restaurants to retailers to service providers.
More than 360,000 individual votes were cast this year, a record number. We’ve tallied the votes and present the winners and runners-up in today’s section.
Our thanks to everyone in the community who makes Best of the Fox possible, including our readers.
• • •
Summer care: Now that Crystal Lake schools let out last week, summer vacation officially has started for my two kids.
Of course, that means finding something active for them to do summerlong with two working parents in the house.
We’ve participated in the Crystal Lake Park District’s summer camp program for the past several years. The counselors are great, the programming is fun and active, and my kids love it.
But there’s always about a one-week gap between when school ends and camp starts, leaving working parents scrambling to find alternative child care.
We’ve been fortunate to have my Mom fly in from Erie, Pa., the past few years to watch my son and daughter during this week.
So thanks to Mom, and to all the relatives, friends, neighbors and other gracious community members out there who help working parents with their child care needs.
You are appreciated.
• Dan McCaleb is senior editor of the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.