Kadner: Garbage still being heaped on Illinois
Imagine you live in a house filled with garbage. Nothing is going out, and more is coming in all the time.
You tell your wife to take out the trash. She replies that she has a plan to deal with the situation.
You contemplate taking action on your own. In the end, nobody does anything.
After years of living with the problem, you agree at last ... to meet and talk about it.
Call this a conference committee.
That’s the way I look at the pension crisis facing the state of Illinois at this point and the Legislature’s latest solution.
Many of my colleagues in the media, many people who run good government and business groups keep urging our elected officials to do something.
These organizations act like when that day comes, it will be a great victory for the people of Illinois.
“Hurray! Someone decided to take out the garbage.”
I find it impossible to get excited about someone doing their chores.
And this is what the pension crisis really boils down to.
When it’s finally resolved, or at least approached with surgical gloves, this state’s financial problems are still going to be there.
The entire goal of the pension fix is to solve problems that are really building 10, 20, 30 years down the road. And to improve the state’s credit rating so it can borrow more money at lower interest rates.
The garbage that has built up in the house over time isn’t going to be removed. The current pile of debt is still going to be sitting there like a heap of dung.
So the goal is to slow the amount of new debt coming in, borrow to make payments going out and hope that nobody really notices how bad things still are.
It’s like one of those Febreze air freshener commercials, where they dump soiled diapers, putrid meat and old socks in the back of a van, put a blindfold on a person and ask them to describe the odor.
If you believe any amount of perfume is going to cover the stench coming out of Springfield, you’re more of an optimist than I am.
I almost sympathize with the frustration expressed by gubernatorial candidate Bill Daley, who lashed out at the lack of leadership in Illinois.
Gov. Pat Quinn has said repeatedly he wants something to resolve the pension mess.
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) claims a bill passed out of the House would cut billions and save the pension systems.
Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) acknowledges that the bill he passed in the Senate wouldn’t have cut as much as Madigan’s but claims it will withstand a challenge to its constitutionality.
Daley contends that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan should have issued an opinion on what would, or would not, pass constitutional muster.
That sounds good, until you remember that Lisa Madigan is the daughter of Michael Madigan, and the minute she steps into a political controversy people question her motive and credibility.
But, yes, it would be nice to have seen some leadership on this issue. Lacking that, how about some adult behavior?
Political insiders claim that Cullerton and Madigan can’t agree on a pension bailout bill because Madigan insulted Cullerton or because Cullerton has refused to genuflect in Madigan’s direction.
“Mikey dissed Johnny so now Johnny’s not talking to Mikey, and Pat’s passing notes to both of them trying to pretend he’s their BFF.”
There’s another view that Madigan and Cullerton really aren’t mad at each other but are trying to make Pat (the governor) look bad to all the voters he’s trying to woo.
Why? To help Lisa Madigan when she runs for governor.
See, I told you it all comes back to politics and children’s games.
Sometimes they’re not much different, although political analysts pretend that politicians are really wise men manipulating the process like chess masters. More often, these powerful folks are little more than petulant bullies in a schoolyard full of goons.
We are talking about the financial future of the state here, which teeters on the brink of bankruptcy.
And it should never be forgotten, that this financial crisis over the state’s five pension plans was largely produced by our governors and legislative leaders. For many years, they simply refused to make the state’s contributions to its pension systems as required by law.
The nationwide economic collapse certainly made things worse, but there would never have been a pension funding crisis if the state simply had made its payments on time.
Instead, elected leaders borrowed from the pension systems to do other things and still spent more money than the government was bringing in, borrowing more money to do so.
That’s how you end up living in a house stacked floor to ceiling with garbage, with trucks pulling up to the driveway each day dropping off more waste, and no plan to deal with it.
Social service programs have been cut. Public education funding has been slashed. The size of the state work force has been reduced.
All sorts of government programs have been outsourced as a result, and the private contractors who were hired aren’t getting paid on time.
Everyone in Illinois is in agreement that something must be done.
“Honey, there’s so much garbage we can’t walk to the toilet any more.”
“Somebody should do something.”
“Let’s get together and talk about it.”
Others may call that progress. Cooperation. A step forward. A breakthrough.
Quinn repeatedly has talked about the millions of dollars added to the state’s debt every day and still the problem goes unresolved. That’s a fact.
But there comes a point, when you’re standing in offal up to your eyeballs, that another load dumped on your head doesn’t seem as important as it once did.
Well, there go our legislators, off to a conference committee. See you later.