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McCaleb: Lawmakers fail on state's ONLY priority

Is it possible voters weren’t clear enough with lawmakers when we sent them to Springfield back in February to attend to the state’s business?

Yes, there was a laundry list of action items that needed to be addressed.

Pass a state budget that spends less money than Illinois takes in.

Start paying down the state’s billions of dollars in unpaid bills so the organizations owed that money can continue to perform the tasks necessary to make our communities better places to live.

Adopt a concealed-carry bill that satisfies a court order striking down Illinois’ unconstitutional gun control laws.

And there was a wish list of items that special interest groups were hoping to push through the General Assembly.

Legalize medical marijuana.

Approve gay marriage.

Add a casino in Chicago and expand gambling elsewhere because – tongue planted firmly in cheek here – additional gaming revenue will solve our state’s fiscal problems.

Regardless of your position on any of these wish-list items, there was this one big thing that stood out at the top of every General Assembly to-do list.

ONE GINORMOUS THING that was written in ALL CAPS and BOLD LETTERS so lawmakers wouldn’t forget.

If the General Assembly didn’t accomplish anything else this spring, as long as it figured out this ONE GINORMOUS THING, the legislative session that ended at midnight Friday would be hailed as ONE HUGE SUCCESS.

Heck, I might have even organized a celebratory parade to welcome our elected officials – heroes, even? – back from Springfield.

No need now, though.

In fact, take down the balloons.

Silence the trumpets.

Most importantly, hide your wallets.

Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois House and Senate failed us miserably.

They FAILED in BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS with multiple exclamation points at the end!!!!!!!!!

By not adopting meaningful pension reform, the legislative session that ended Friday was a waste of everyone’s time.

It was a waste of time for the elected officials we paid to be there. It was a waste of time for the media who covered it. It was a waste of time for taxpayers back home.

How important is pension reform?

Our five statewide public pensions are underfunded by a worst-in-the-nation $100 billion. Each day that reform is not taken, that number grows by about $17 million.

Since early February. when we sent our lawmakers to Springfield to fix our failing pension systems, it’s grown by about $2 billion.

All this extra money that eventually will have to go to pay down our pension debt is money that won’t be available for teaching our children, for paying police officers and other emergency personnel to keep us safe, to fix our deteriorating roads and outdated infrastructure.

It all but guarantees that the outrageous, “temporary” income-tax hike foisted on hardworking Illinoisans in the middle of a cold, January 2011 night won’t be temporary.

All of that money, all of our money, is going to be needed to pay for our unsustainable public pensions.

It’s not that some individual lawmakers didn’t try.

Most of McHenry County’s own elected lawmakers fought a valiant fight.

I talked to state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, on average every other week during this session. He’d frequently call or email me to give me an update on where pension reform stood. He gets it.

“Pension reform is everything,” McSweeney told me often. “Nothing else matters without pension reform.”

That’s true because as the percentage of tax dollars going to pay pensions continues to grow, the money left to pay for existing services continues to shrink.

In the session’s waning moments, state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, demanded that Gov. Quinn immediately call a special session to address pension reform.

“Our state is going to become insolvent because of this,” Franks said. “If the governor doesn’t call us back in a special session, he ought to resign because he is not leading.”

Quinn isn’t the only leader in Springfield who should consider resigning. Speaker of the House Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have failed us repeatedly, too.

“This is a session where we have not enjoyed a great deal of success,” Madigan said late Friday in arguably the understatement of the millennium.

“Well, things could have gone better,” the captain of the Titanic might as well have said near the end of his ship’s maiden – and only – voyage.

Madigan continued: “However, that doesn’t mean that we’re going to walk away from our responsibilities.”

Really?

It seems to me that, by not staying in Springfield until pension reform was done, Madigan, Cullerton and Quinn did walk away from their responsibilities.

“Are we clear?” Jack Nicholson’s Col. Nathan Jessup asks Tom Cruise’s Lt. Daniel Kaffee in the movie “A Few Good Men.”

“Yes, sir,” Cruise replied.

“ARE WE CLEAR?”

“Crystal.”

To answer the question I posed to open this diatribe, taxpayers’ message to our elected state officials regarding pension reform was crystal clear.

Our state’s leaders are just too incompetent to solve it.

• Dan McCaleb of Crystal Lake is group editor of Shaw Media’s suburban publications, which include the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at dmccaleb@shawmedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dan_McCaleb.

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