Peoria Journal Star
Going around in circles on pension-borrowing
Saturday, May 29, 2010
On May 7, the General Assembly quit working because there weren't enough votes to pass a pension-borrowing plan.
Three weeks later, the General Assembly quit working again because there weren't enough votes to pass a pension-borrowing plan.
Kind of monotonous, isn't it?
Waiting for the call
Usually when the House and Senate wrap up the spring session, they set a specific date to return, normally in the fall for the veto session. Not this time.
Both the House and Senate adjourned Thursday to the call of the chair. That means Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, both D-Chicago, can call their chambers back into session whenever. Cullerton keeps talking about returning in a matter of weeks to take up the pension-borrowing issue, the last remaining piece of the budget package still unresolved.
Let's just say that more than a few legislators doubt they will be back before the leaves turn.
It's sort of ironic, isn't it?
Borrowing money to make next year's pension payment was supposed to have a tough time in the Illinois House. At least one Republican vote was needed there for the borrowing plan to reach the super-majority mark for approval.
That's one reason the bill started in the House. Senate Democrats didn't want it to end up like some other things - the income tax hike last year and the cigarette tax increase - for which they stuck their necks out and voted for something, only to watch it stall in the House. This time, the House would have to show its hand first.
Conventional wisdom held that if the borrowing plan somehow got out of the House, it should have no real problem in the Senate, where Democrats already hold a super-majority. And then ...
The bill did have a tough time in the House, where it took several votes before it was approved. In the end, though, it did pass. Now it's the Senate where it's stuck.
So much for conventional wisdom.
Spending is spending
You get the picture that state lawmakers left town with a gigantic budget mess still pending, right?
That mess still didn't prevent them from digging the hole a little deeper. Before leaving Springfield, the Senate gave final approval to a sales tax holiday in August for back-to-school clothing and supplies. Republicans estimate this will cost the state about $50 million.
Spending $50 million on any other new program would be met with howls of protest. However, an election-year goodie for taxpayers . . . well, that's different.
Here's betting that the tax holiday will be readily embraced by many people who vehemently complain that state spending is out of control. And this counts as state spending just as much as something to help the needy.
"They want to win an election. They're not real good at winning elections." - House Speaker Madigan, on Republican lawmakers.
"He's also a former member of the Illinois House, birthplace of many great Americans." - Madigan on James Reilly, who is designated the new head of McPier in Chicago.
"I think we've already tightened our belt. I know intentions are excellent, but I don't think the state legislature should reduce the significance of what they do and what they need to do. We should not be blamed for the recession across this country." - Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, on the idea of lawmakers taking a pay cut and cutting their daily expense money for being in session.
If you want to know why all of the talk about cutting the budget is pretty much just that - talk - you don't have to look much further than last week.
A group of Democratic lawmakers cobbled together a bunch of ideas to cut the state budget. The list included health care, education and state operations. They put a $1.3 billion price tag on the ideas.
Let's pause for a moment. Their suggestions were worth $1.3 billion, they said. That's only one-tenth of the deficit. In other words, what they were proposing was hardly drastic.
One by one, the reductions were shot down in committees. The only really tangible reduction that survived was a plan to cut Medicaid spending by $200 million. In many cases, Republicans were as eager as Democrats to oppose the cuts.
There's still the magic money tree.