Political Rewind: Bad Week for Illinois Democrats Gets Worse
As we start a new week, it's always good to get caught up on state politics. Here's an easy guide to what happened last week.
Editor's Note: This article was created by aggregating news articles from Illinois Watchdog, formerly Illinois Statehouse News.
SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Democrats had a no-good, very bad week, starting Wednesday when disgruntled state workers and retirees booed and heckled them off the stage during the usually upbeat Governor’s Day rally at the Illinois State Fair.
It ended Friday, when lawmakers called back for a taxpayer-funded special session by Gov. Pat Quinn were unable to come to any kind of agreement on pension reform for the state, which continues to drown in pension debt.
Jeers for Quinn, other Democratic leaders at state fair
Thousands of people gathered at the Illinois State Fair Wednesday, officially “Governor’s Day” at the fair, to protest pension reform, cuts to retiree benefits and Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close state prisons and consolidate inmates to save money.
The protest, organized by We Are One Illinois, a consortium of unions representing state workers and teachers, drew state employees, retirees and other supporters. The group chanted “Liar” and booed when Quinn took the stage to rally Democrats on the director’s lawn at the fairgrounds. Quinn thanked them for the “warm welcome,” went on with a brief speech and left the stage.
The unions also hired a plane that flew overhead during the rally and pulled a sign that read, “Gov. Quinn: Unfair to workers.” And prior to the rally, workers surrounded Quinn at a nearby pavilion as he stopped to eat lunch. They chanted “Respect Illinois workers” and “Gov. Quinn, keep your word” as he ate and Illinois State Police guarded him.
Smith expelled from House
Illinois House lawmakers on Friday kicked out indicted Rep. Derrick Smith, who faces a federal bribery charge. He’s accused of accepting a $7,000 bribe in his job as legislator.
The vote – 100 in favor of expulsion and six against it – resulted in Smith immediately being removed from the House roll. He is a Chicago Democrat who was serving his first term as a state lawmaker.
Neither Smith nor his Chicago attorney, Victor Henderson, were present for the vote in Springfield.
Smith remains on the Nov. 6 ballot in his home district, but he no longer has backing from the state’s Democratic machine. At a news conference after the vote Friday, he said he intends to remain on the ballot for a chance to be re-elected to his seat. If he is re-elected and returns to Springfield in January, lawmakers would not be able to expel him a second time for the same accusations.
Smith faces Lance Tyson, a Democrat who is running as a “Unity Party” candidate with Democratic backing.
‘Comprehensive’ pension reform evades divided state lawmakers
State lawmakers on Friday failed to reach an agreement on how to reform Illinois’ public pension system in a way that could start making a dent in billions of dollars of unfunded liabilities.
Gov. Pat Quinn called called them back to Springfield on Friday for a special session, funded by taxpayers, to reach an agreement on pension reform, which is his No. 1 priority. It became apparent as the week drew on that lawmaker agreement on reform was unlikely.
Revised estimates put Illinois’ unfunded liability in the neighborhood of $130 billion. Until recently, lawmakers thought it was $83 billion.
Quinn and others are worried that without reform that allows Illinois to make a dent in the pension debt, bond houses will downgrade the state’s credit rating, making it more difficult to get loans.
Friday, House lawmakers debated a proposal that would have eliminated pensions for new members of the General Assembly, saving the state about $111 million by 2045. Some lawmakers said it was a meek attempt to address pension debt that made them “look like idiots,” while others said it was a starting point to show voters they take the problem seriously. Members of the Senate had left prior to the vote.
Each party blamed the other for lawmakers’ inability to come to an agreement about how to reform the system. After both houses left for the day Friday, Quinn blamed the Republicans.
“Today is a disappointing day for Illinois taxpayers,” he said. “The only thing standing between our state and pension reform is politics.”
“I think folks in this state and around the country don’t think it could happen to them. They say, ‘That happens in Europe. That happens in faraway places. That’s not going to happen here,’” said Cross of Oswego.
“Well, when you’re at $130 billion of unfunded liability, I’d say it’s pretty real. And I think perhaps until something dramatic happens, we may not do anything in a real substantive way. It’s a difficult conversation, but it’s not one that’s going to go away.”
— Jayette Bolinski