Illinois pensions. There’s a cold wind blowing come January.
Michael Madigan’s attempt to undermine the pension protection clause of the Illinois Constitution went down in flames.
It got neither the 60% of the voters to vote yes nor 50% of the voters who cast a ballot. 2.5 million voters in Illinois did not approve the Constitutional Amendment on pensions.
In addition there was no tax rebellion on Tuesday directed at the Democrats for their vote to temporarily increase the state income tax from 3% to 5%. In fact, the Democrats increased their numbers to a veto proof majority in both houses of the General Assembly.
Voters show no desire to go after teachers, public employees or unions when it comes to pension reform. There is widespread understanding among the voters, if not the members of the General Assembly, that this has been a funding problem, not a benefits problem.
As an aside: It would take a return on investment comparable to the dimensions of the Karl Rove disaster to match that of the IPACE contributions to GOP House Leader Tom Cross. Cross was once again endorsed by the IEA, continuing to add member dollars to his campaign bank account. It is now filled with more IEA member dollars than any other member of the Illinois General Assembly who wasn’t seeking higher office.
IEA President Cinda Klickna justified this by repeating the IEA’s now dubious electoral strategy of hoping to massage the most powerful Republican in the state. It is now a question of whether Cross will survive as House Leader in the wake of the Illinois Republican electoral debacle, which has turned the GOP into barely more than a minor party.
Meanwhile Governor Quinn has become the Harry Houdini of Illinois politics. He has disappeared. He once promised to lead a grassroots movement to pass the Constitutional Amendment. But neither he nor Madigan showed up.
He is now calling for pension action during the November veto session of the General Assembly. However, as of October there was no agreement among any of the players in Springfield. While they are capable of cooking some madness up, nobody seems to think they will .
Veto sessions can be good and they can be dangerous. Lame duck legislators are unpredictable. The tax increase was passed in a veto session. So was the right to same-sex civil unions. So was the end to the death penalty.
A pension deal that would cut cost of living increases, deny access to retiree health benefits or a shift of the cost of the pension obligation to local districts could take place in a blink.
The cold wind of pension reform is more likely to come down off the Lake in January when the new Illinois legislature meets and Madigan won’t need any votes from Republicans. He may want the appearance of bipartisanship. But he doesn’t need it.
The flip side is true as well. A larger Democratic caucus may include some independent thinkers. Some mavericks. Who?
That’s where we come in. It requires lots of phone calls and face to face visits to identify them.
If past practice is any guide to the future, don’t expect much to come from union leadership until late in the game.
In the last session we kept hearing, “There is no bill,” until one was almost passed.
A cold wind off the Lake is not a bad metaphor for what Madigan and Quinn want to do to public employee retirees.
Blaming public employees. Cutting benefits instead of raising revenue is like telling the victims of Hurricane Sandy to suck it up and restore electrical power themselves. It is the equal to the job done by FEMA under George Bush following Hurricane Katrina.
Heckuva job Mike Madigan.
But this past election shows the voters are not particularly open to this approach. In California, voters said yes to a sales tax increase and a tax on the richest in the state to pay for education. Three decades ago, California led the tax rebellion when Prop 13 was passed.
California now shows the way again.
In Illinois, we can win this thing.