By Rep. Jim Sacia
What a unique challenge the last 16 days of May! We eliminated a very costly free health care system for retirees. We did yeoman’s work in repairing an out-of-control Medicaid system. The work done on the budget by those of us on the five appropriations committees in the House to put together an acceptable budget that or once, spends no more than we anticipate as income was, simply put, amazing.
Pension reform remains, at best, a puzzle. In the waning hours before mandatory adjournment, midnight on May 31, no consensus could be reached.
Late at night on May 30, Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, in a brilliant political move, stated that the governor and House Republican Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego had agreed that a cost shift should not occur. This shift would have placed a $26 billion cost for state pensions on the shoulders of suburban and downstate school systems, universities and community colleges rather than the state, was seen as a breakthrough.
Here is why it was brilliant — Speaker Madigan then transferred control of the bill to Cross. OK, so what? It had already been agreed that House Republicans would put 30 votes on the bill, and House Democrats would do the same. Once it became Cross’s bill, the Republicans remained committed, but Speaker Madigan could only produce 12 votes. He pulled his people off.
Now, the bill will languish for some time, perhaps until after the election in November. It’s much easier to take a hard vote right after an election than right before. Do you see Speaker Madigan’s strategy? The real icing on the cake is the governor has changed his mind and now wants the shift!!!
Since we’ve returned home from Springfield, I continue to look at hundreds of e-mails much like this one — “I am a teacher that votes. … Teachers did not cause this problem, past and present legislators are to blame.” No, not totally true!
In the 10 years I’ve been in the Legislature, three times we have either borrowed the money (on two occasions) or once omitted the state’s yearly payment (approximately $4 billion) to the pension fund. Each time the teachers’ unions (all) and the state employee unions (all) agreed to go neutral, meaning they did not object to the bill.
Why would they do that? Simple, they negotiated a perk, such as step increases for those soon to retire to enhance their retirement. Many rank-and-file union members angrily respond to me that it didn’t happen that way. Oh, yes, it did. Do you really believe bills of that magnitude would pass without unions’ backing anyway? Never happen!
Jim Sacia (R) is the state representative for the 89th District in Illinois.
From the July 4-10, 2012, issue