"We Had A Legislative Session?" And Other Observations

Jun 4, 2013

Columnist Chuck Sweeny (Rockford Register Star photo)

The end of May brought several political developments (and non-developments) at the Illinois capital and in northern Illinois.

Rockford Register Star columnist, Chuck Sweeny, is a longtime observer of state and regional politics. He found the General Assembly's spring session amusing ("We had a legislative session?"), but also frustrating.

"They act like they're still ward captains in Chicago," he says, "looking out for their ward and nothing else." Sweeney blames the latest round of redistricting for insulating lawmakers from the consequences of not acting on issues such as pensions:

"The districts have been redrawn to insure that 95 or 98 percent of the legislators get elected," he says, "so what do they care? Meanwhile, our pension problem grows worse by $17 million a day." Sweeny calls lawmakers' inaction "astounding."

One plan pushed by Sen. President John Cullerton (D - Chicago) has the support of unions. It would reduce the pension shortfall by giving workers and retirees a choice between cost of living increases and access to state subsidized health care.

A competing plan, pushed by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D - Chicago), would require state workers to take more money out of their paycheck, increase retirement ages and scale back cost-of-living bumps. Most experts agree Madigan's plan would save more money, but Cullerton insists his plan would survive a constitutional challenge.

Nevertheless, Cullerton let Madigan's bill get a vote in the Senate, where it was rejected. Madigan did not allow Cullerton's bill to get a floor vote, instead adjourning the House late Friday.

Sweeny says Gov. Pat Quinn should order a special session to deal with pensions this summer. But Sweeney isn't sure Quinn will do this, calling the Governor "hard to read."

In the interview above, Sweeny also talks about the selection of the new Republican Party chairman for Illinois, and an effort to get Rockford-area officials to reduce a problem of growing concern for voters: crime.