Monday, August 6, 2012

Call it another Quinn Sunday special. Will anyone listen to pension study?

It seems Gov. Pat Quinn hasn’t forgotten his past tactics to gain attention for himself.
QUINN: An attention jolt?

Quinn, when he held past political posts, was the master of the Sunday press conference. He’d find some issue to get worked up over, then take a stand on Sunday.

BECAUSE OF THE lack of other news activity (except in those occasional weekends where a dozen or so murders would take place in a single two-day time span), he’d make it onto various television newscasts and would get decent play in the Monday morning newspapers.

So Quinn, who is desperate to create the appearance that there’s a chance of resolving the pension funding programs that confront Illinois state government, came out with his own study on Sunday – sending copies all over the state.

One that says the underfunding is so drastic that Illinois will be spending more on pensions by the year 2016 than it will on public education programs – a concept that is offensive if you think about it, and should greatly bother us.

Perhaps that is the strategy. Get the people all worked up so that they start making those telephone calls to their local legislator, so that they feel compelled to do something when the General Assembly returns to Springfield for the one-day session in which they’re supposed to take action to resolve the problem.

BECAUSE IF THAT does not happen, it will be all too likely that the legislators won’t feel the least bit compelled to do anything – other than the Illinois House members who have another bit of business to deal with that day.

Aug. 17 is more likely to be the day that state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, got expelled from the Legislature on account of the federal charges he faces for alleged acts of bribery, than it is to be the date on which the pension program was resolved.

Heck, it may be more likely that on Nov. 6, Smith will get re-elected to the Illinois House (he remains on the ballot as the Democratic nominee from a West Side-based legislative district) and there STILL won’t be a solution to the pension program.

So a part of me kind of admires Quinn for trying to jump-start some action on this issue. His Office of Management & Budget put together the study that says required state pension contributions will rise to just over $6 billion, which the governor says would have to come from education funds.

BUT I’D TAKE it more seriously if I thought there were any serious negotiations taking place to come up with a solution that could be voted on by the individual legislators when they show up at the Statehouse the end of next week.

There is speculation that Quinn may ask legislators to vote on a partial reform plan – one that would ignore the problems caused by the pension programs that cover educators and the legislators themselves.

The latter, of course, was always the one pension program that was best funded by state government. Legislators looking out for themselves?

Some may argue that a partial solution is better than nothing. I’d argue that ignoring the most seriously flawed parts of the problem amounts to doing nothing. Particularly when it comes to those schoolteachers.

FOR ALL THOSE school boards across the state are insisting that they’re going to be irrevocably harmed if they have to assume the funding for a portion. At this point, their hollering and screaming has the attention of state legislators much more than the governor.

It is why despite all the rhetoric last spring about how a solution had to be found now or else great harm would be inflicted upon Illinois, nothing happened.

Our legislators don’t feel any real sense of urgency. Theoretically, they know there is a serious problem. But the will to do anything about it just doesn’t exist.
OGILVIE: Setting an example?

Because if there is a political person whose image is coming to their minds these days, it is that of the former Gov. Dick Ogilvie.

HE IS THE governor who in the early 1970s pushed for Illinois’ first state income tax, which ticked off so many voters that it was blamed for his 1972 defeat to Dan Walker.

Ogilvie got punished politically for doing the right thing. None of the incumbent legislators wants to suffer the same fate.

Of course, I’m sure they’d vote for it in an instant if they could be assured that it would be Quinn himself who would draw any potential political fallout come 2014!


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