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Our view: Where are the state’s leaders?

Where is the leadership in Illinois state government?

Just over a week ago, Gov. Pat Quinn’s one-day special legislative session to address the state’s $83 billion unfunded pension liability ended without even a vote on the smallest measure of reform – to change legislators’ own pensions.

Quinn’s take on the failure: “Republican leaders said no.”

To what, exactly? A plan into which they had no input? One that didn’t solve the multibillion-dollar funding gap and shifted the teacher pension liability to local school districts with no plan for how the local districts would pay for it?

We think the shift eventually should happen, but not until benefit promises are more realistic and the state figures out how it can be done without triggering major property tax increases.

What remains of the middle class in Illinois can’t afford another tax increase. Home ownership already has been a money-losing proposition – or worse – for many, and Illinois’ property taxes already are among the highest in the country.

“It looks like all this was done for is political fodder to give them some cover in the upcoming election to make it look like they’re serious about pension reforms,” state Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said after the session ended. “They’re not.

“They’re just reverting to the old practices of kind of dictatorial rule here in Springfield, and that never leads to good solutions.”

Pension reform is a statewide problem; it demands a solution that serves not just the political aims of Democrats. It is unbecoming for a governor whose party controls not only the governor’s office, but also the House and Senate to blame the minority party when nothing is accomplished.

The reality is that those in leadership positions in Springfield have failed to show leadership.

The first failure was in allowing the pension liability to escalate to a crisis situation, in part because of unaffordable benefits, including free health care for thousands of retirees and annual, compounded pension increases. The latest was expecting lawmakers to craft a real solution in only one day.

Union leaders certainly know who they expect will come through for them. On the same day legislators were holding their failed special session, a campaign fund controlled by House Speaker Michael Madigan received two donations worth a combined $97,000 from political action committees affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, which represents thousands of public employees.

The majority leaders in Springfield – Quinn, Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton – already have demonstrated their leadership style. There was the 67 percent income tax increase that was rammed down taxpayers’ throats in January 2011 with the help of departing state representatives, some of whom later went on to become state employees. Not a single Republican voted in favor.

Revenue from that tax increase already has been gobbled up by the pension liability, leaving us right back where we started: with an ineffective leadership group that refuses to compromise and takes every opportunity to blame the minority party for failures that seem to clearly be theirs.

Laying blame on others when half-baked plans go awry does not bode well for the way forward in Illinois. Quinn, Madigan and Cullerton are the ones in control.

It’s time they stop laying blame and start leading.

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