The Southtown Star

Quinn says Legislators prefer ice cream, not spinach

Monday, September 27, 2010

As Gov. Pat Quinn sipped hot tea at a SouthtownStar conference table Thursday afternoon, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the guy.

Lagging in the polls, blasted in the newspapers, criticized by fellow Democrats, jabbed for missteps - this is not the track many expected after the February primary.

Democrats presumed running against ultra-conservative Republican Bill Brady would be a cakewalk, the very sort showcased at school fundraisers with a brisk stroll set to lively parade music. And to the winner? Coconut cream!
But Quinn is short on pie these days.

Take last week's revelation about his negotiations with American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. After hauling union officials to the bargaining table in mid-contract to beg for concessions, he agreed to protect unionized workers from layoffs in exchange for down-the-road cost savings. AFSCME writhed at the closing of Howe Developmental Center in Tinley Park, which resulted in the loss of 1,000 union jobs, according to Quinn.

So after promising to keep AFSCME workers employed and state facilities open, Quinn promptly received the union's endorsement, leaving the impression he put his campaign interests ahead of taxpayers. After all, if the state payroll needs to be trimmed, it ought to be trimmed. No group - not AFSCME, Teamsters, the Fraternal Order of Police, teachers, bureaucrats - deserves blanket protection when the state is $6 billion behind paying its bills.

Brady and other Republicans, including Lemont state Sen. Christine Radogno, lurched at the story and successfully milked it for a few more days.

Meanwhile, General Assembly incumbents knocking on doors are getting an earful about Quinn's missteps. Quinn is the new poster boy for reckless state spending. He's the drag at the top of the ticket. The floundering mascot. The tax-and-spend hippie.

I find that quite interesting.

Four months ago, the very lawmakers complaining about Quinn did absolutely nothing to make the tough decisions, including Brady. They wanted no part of actual cuts. Republicans did not put forth a single piece of legislation listing which specific programs, and where, deserved to be sliced from the state budget; which road projects should be postponed; which salaries should be eliminated; which state facilities should be closed; which contracts should be decreased; which consultants axed.

Democratic lawmakers were worse. They followed the lead of House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) who suggested they sharpen the butcher knife, hand it to Quinn and run for the hills. They've taken their summer vacations, opened campaign headquarters and made the rounds to bingo centers and fundraisers, leaving the task of actual cutting to Quinn.

Interesting.

"Let's put it this way," Quinn said during a meeting with the SouthtownStar editorial board. "If you don't want to eat spinach in order to get to be healthy, you shouldn't be there eating chocolate fudge sundaes. And that's what we have too much of in Illinois. Politicians who want to have dessert, but they don't want to eat their vegetables."

There's no question Quinn is in trouble. From his honorable but weak management style to his unrealistic belief that Illinois voters discern and even sympathize with the need for a tax increase, Quinn is headed for a tumble, polls have shown.

Has he reduced spending? Yes. More than any previous governor, due in large part because there's no money.

He also has been saved by the bell with borrowing, federal stimulus money and by sitting on overdue bills. In terms of actual programs and services eliminated from the state's purview, Quinn is unable to get uber-specific on cuts. That hurts him, both in his "sell" as a sound fiscal manager and his ability to convince everyday voters of the need for a tax increase.

There is plenty of blame to spread around, however, in the vast mess that is Illinois' budget. Much of that blame falls to the 177 legislators who have the luxury right now of focusing on re-election, not the state's financial catastrophe. Why? Because they adjourned in May without fixing it. They waited for the crash of the gavel and hopped on Interstate 55.

Quinn may be the name at the top of the ticket.
But he's not the only one walking around with pie on his face.