Our government needs our work, commitment

Friday, June 04, 2010

Residents of Palatine Township Elementary District 15 just learned their work to collect 7,500 signatures succeeded in ensuring voters are the ones who approve or reject a $27 million loan.
In River Trails Elementary District 26, concerned parents have packed meetings for months to debate and question a plan to move from neighborhood schools to grade centers. This week, board members responded, rejecting the change active parents did not support.
Agree or disagree with the individual issues, the lesson to be learned here is that our governments are our governments. When we are willing to do the hard work of participating in them, and if we can keep at it and build consensus, we can succeed at getting the changes we want.
So, when are we going to step up, do the tough work and demand what we expect out of our state officials?
Legislators adjourned at May's end, leaving behind a $13 billion budget deficit, including $6 billion in unpaid bills, and a nearly $80 billion underfunded pension debacle. Many efforts to cut spending were rejected. So were plans to approve borrowing more money to make required pension payments. Gov. Pat Quinn has talked of taking $1 billion from some state accounts to make some required payments elsewhere. None of this solves the underlying debt problem.
Certainly, it is appalling that state legislators essentially abdicated their duties and vacated the Capitol for the summer.
That would be like BP officials saying, "Well, we tried, but we just can't figure out a way to cap the oil leak so we're going to go drill somewhere else. Sorry."
Would we accept that? We hope not.
Yet, it seems we're willing to accept nearly that from our state officials. Sure, we're all fed up, worn down and disgusted as one former governor sits in prison and another's trial begins.
But walking away is not an option, for our state officials or for us. We must demand better and keep demanding better.
Some legislators, including several suburban Democrats, did attempt to outline some ideas for budget cuts, but some of their ideas were met with active disdain from public employees and retirees and most were abandoned or rejected. Part of the problem here is that too many rank-and-file legislators don't understand enough about how the budget works. Part of the problem is that many of them have found it politically convenient to leave the tough work to their legislative leaders. Part of the problem is that the real state budget work doesn't start until the session's final days.
And part of the problem is that we constituents are letting this happen, year after year.
It's nearly cliché, but we get the government we allow. It's up to us to change it. And that takes commitment and hard work. We need a renewed effort from everyone.
If we want painful budget cuts, we must demand them of our officials. If we want them to return to Springfield this summer and launch a series of budgeting seminars, we must demand it. If we want to test whether pension benefits can be changed for current state workers, we must demand it. If we want less political-party control over creating legislative districts that protect incumbents, we must work for it and sign the petitions to try to get the question put to a vote. If we're fed up about any of this, but we haven't called our elected officials to demand the change we want, and we're not willing to keep calling for change, well then, we're part of the problem too.
Are we going to walk away from the pipe spewing poison all over our state or are we finally ready to work at being part of the solution?