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The Capitol Fax

Quinn says he will reduce lawmaker pay

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

* There were lots of harsh reviews about last week’s General Assembly actions on the budget and pension borrowing…

* Watchdog Urges Quinn to Veto State Budget: Laurence Msall, president of the non-partisan Civic Federation, based in Chicago, calls the bill “irresponsible.”

* State Budget Short On Cash, Long On Question Marks

* Questions remain after legislative session

* Erickson: State legislators swing and miss

* Southern Illinoisan: Illinois not a blue or red state; it’s yellow

* RR Star: Lawmakers leave job undone; state finances a mess

* Sweeny: Stop budget madness, end one-party rule

* Statehouse Insider: Things are pretty monotonous in General Assembly

* Wilson: Pain of Illinois state budget woes will be felt by all

* Budget inaction leaves Illinois adrift

* State budget mess: No end in sight

So, Gov. Quinn has decided to take the populist route…

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn says he wants to reduce the salaries of state lawmakers. It’s part of his plan to make cuts to try to balance the state’s $13 billion deficit.

Lawmakers granted Quinn extra powers to make those cuts himself. The governor says reducing salaries is only the beginning of the cuts he’ll be making. […]

Quinn says he also wants to cut travel expenses of state employees. He says he wants to spare health care, education and public safety.

Good luck with that.

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column looks at that pension bond vote in the House…

Illinois House Republicans had a universal message for Rep. Bob Biggins (R-Elmhurst) last week: You are officially an outcast.

Rep. Biggins infuriated his fellow Republicans by switching his position and voting for a $3.7 billion borrowing plan supported by Democrats. The money would be used to make the state’s annual pension payment. Without it, the state would have to slash programs like education and human services and health care or delay the payment, which could cost the pension funds tens of billions of dollars in the long term.

The first attempt to pass the borrowing bill failed by one vote, with Republican Reps. Bill Black and Bob Pritchard voting for it. Democratic Reps. David Miller and Jack Franks both voted against the proposal.

Biggins is retiring at the end of this term, and it has been rumored for weeks that he is searching for a state job. Because of that, he has been on a very short list of Republicans who some suspected might be called upon at the last minute to help the Democrats pass a controversial bill. They definitely needed him last week.

The House Republican caucus had taken a firm position against the pension bill, claiming the plan to borrow to make the state’s pension payment was simply “kicking the can down the road.” More important, they believed that Gov. Quinn would be forced to the negotiating table if they could stop the bill, which required a three-fifths majority to pass. They thought they could use the failure of his plan to push him to cut the budget even more, or at least create chaos and make the Democrats look bad.

Immediately after Rep. Miller’s “No” vote caused the pension bill to fail, House Speaker Michael Madigan huddled with Miller, who sits two chairs down from Madigan’s official floor seat. A few minutes into the conversation, Miller made a motion to reconsider the vote and the Republicans then met in private for an hour.

Miller, the Democratic nominee for comptroller, dodged reporters after the vote and sprinted into the governor’s office. Rep. Biggins strolled in later.

Biggins spoke at length by mobile phone with a top Democratic operative after the initial floor vote. He reportedly told the operative that he was thinking about switching his vote and asked the operative for advice.

The operative offered to help Biggins obtain whatever he needed from the Quinn administration, but Biggins reportedly declined, saying there would be time enough for that in the coming weeks, if at all.

The operative then helped Biggins draft a statement to the media, which Biggins wrote down verbatim, explaining that he has had trouble remembering details since his stroke six years ago. Not long afterward, Biggins met with Quinn’s chief of staff to discuss his vote.

Democrats say that Biggins has privately expressed frustration and disappointment with his caucus and his party for weeks. He has been unhappy with what he considers to be an obstructionist minority leader who refuses to cooperate on much of anything, and was also reportedly appalled at conservative state Sen. Bill Brady’s gubernatorial nomination and gaffe prone candidacy.

Meanwhile, the House Republicans began pressuring Rep. Pritchard, who had voted “yes” during the first round. They used a strong call to party loyalty to eventually flip Pritchard the other way. Rep. Black had made it clear he would not switch his vote and held firm throughout.

When Biggins didn’t show up for caucus, the Republicans suspected he was about to flip. They were right. Both he and Miller switched to “Yes” during the second roll call and the bill passed. Miller said he received nothing for his vote, but he has a tough campaign ahead against former GOP state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka and he will need all the help he can get.

Many of Biggins’ colleagues were beside themselves with rage at his vote-switching. Rep. Jim Sacia passed by Biggins while Biggins was speaking to reporters and called him a “two-faced son of a b__.”

Rep. Black told me as many as a dozen House Republicans wanted to vote for the pension bill. They voted against it because of the absolute party position against the proposal.

So, while I can easily sympathize with Republicans who felt blind-sided by a guy who broke his word, it’s mighty tough to feel sorry for anyone who stuck with their party instead of voting their conscience.

* And the spinning begins in earnest…

Illinois House Speaker and Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan said all the successes of the legislative session were on the backs of the Democrats. Madigan said pension reform, nursing home resident protections and the McCormick Place overhaul, for instance, were fashioned by Democrats, whereas Republicans were “just bystanders.”

“They want to win an election. They’re not real good at winning elections. They want to win an election, so they got a campaign plan for November which says there are lots of problems, not completely solved. Democrats are in the majority, they should’ve done better,” Madigan said.

And that general theme is, in fact, pretty close to what Republicans have in mind.

“I think people are tired of wasteful spending and watching people continue to borrow and spend money they don’t have and not improve the job climate. If those are the issues that are resonating, then those will be the issues of the day,” said House Republican leader Tom Cross said. “I do think people have been paying attention more than they ever have before. I think they will look at the party in charge.”