"I've never seen anything like this. It's two different worldviews." – State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields
… and it’s about time!
For decades, there’s only been one worldview in Springfield: that of House Speaker Mike Madigan. Madigan has been Speaker of the House since I was 6 years old. (I’m now 38.)
The visible results of that worldview are easily seen. One recent study, by George Mason University, ranked the fiscal condition of the 50 states. From not having a balanced budget to not having enough cash to meet either short-term or long-term commitments, Illinois came in dead last, 50 out of 50.
One concrete example of this was laid out in a symposium in January on public pensions, where Prof. Robert Inman of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School observed that, “Chicago’s unfunded [pension] liabilities are 10 times its revenues. Just assume that they’re going to have to pay 5% of that [annually]. That means you’re looking at 50% of their cash that will have go to pensions.”
As we trudge through these long hot days of summer, these “two worldviews” are why the government of Illinois is in shutdown mode, and the General Assembly deadlocked with Governor Bruce Rauner.
This new “worldview” of the Governor isn’t radical by any stretch. He’s proposing measures to reduce the costs of doing business in Illinois, and to streamline and reform all levels of state and local government. He’s also put forward term limits and ending the partisan process of drawing political districts, in hopes of finally and permanently breaking the power of career politicians to control state government.
You don’t have to agree with the Governor and each of his policy prescriptions in order to appreciate that we finally have competing visions of government in Illinois. It’s time for a robust debate on the critical issues facing us as a state—and may the best ideas and solutions win.
The sad reality is that the Governor’s reform measures are drafted, filed, and pending in the House Rules Committee, waiting to be released. However, Speaker Madigan and his majority caucus won’t allow these measures to be debated. And so, we’re shut down. And mired in crisis.
Let’s have the debate, and out of that debate will come compromise. If not, then let the people vote out those who refuse to work for their best interests.
There’s no Greece-style bailout on the horizon for Illinois. There are no easy solutions. Just hard work—if we’re allowed to do it.
A major community college compensation reform measure, House Bill 3593, received final approval by a vote of 73-34 from the Illinois House last week. Passed over heavy opposition from community college presidents, the bill combined several concepts for reining in abuses in community college severance packages and benefits. One of the limitations in the bill is Rep. Peter Breen’s “Breuder Rule,” which would limit all severance packages to no more than one year’s salary and benefits. The name is a reference to the disgraced president of the College of DuPage, Robert Breuder, who received an over $750,000 payout from the College’s prior Board of Trustees. The College of DuPage is located in Breen’s 48th House District.
“We need reform at every level of government in Illinois,” Breen said. “While those who benefit from sweetheart severance packages fought hard against any changes to the law, my co-sponsors and I were able to gain the necessary bipartisan support to pass the measure. When enough public pressure is brought to bear on bad practices, we can get reforms passed in Springfield. I look forward to more of these sorts of reform measures in the future.”
Rep. Breen (R-Lombard) took the House floor to advocate strongly for the bill during a contentious debate. In addition to Breen’s “Breuder Rule,” the bill also limits community college employment contracts to no more than four years and specifically requires public notice prior to the adoption of those contracts. With final passage by the House, the bill will now be sent to the desk of Governor Bruce Rauner.
We’re now in week two of the fiscal crisis in Springfield. Tempers are flaring in the Capitol: the other side even tried to shout me down, when I spoke on the House floor this past week about the harms to the needy and disabled caused by the unbalanced budget. (We got the video and posted it on my website, reppeterbreen.org, if you’d like to see it.)
The reason we’re here is Speaker Madigan. He rammed a package of 20 budget bills through the General Assembly which would spend $4 billion more than we’ll take in next year. Because the package of bills was unbalanced, Governor Rauner vetoed all but one of the budget bills. He decided to sign the K-12 education bill, so that schools can open, regardless of how long the budget fight takes to resolve.
Without agreement on a budget, payments to state contractors will grind to a halt, including payments to agencies providing services to the disabled and the poor. Some of these are paid on a delayed basis, so there may be a 30-day or 60-day window where the agencies’ payments continue, because those payments are left over from the previous fiscal year. However, no payments for this new fiscal year, which began on July 1, can occur. Even so, over the years, various court orders require certain payments to continue, such as for foster care, so some services will continue to be funded. Services funded through federal dollars should also continue.
As for the government itself, state employees are still coming to work, so it’s hard to call this a “shutdown.” Governor Rauner supports paying them, on time, for their work, because one way or the other, these folks are going to get paid in full. The worst would be mimicking the way the federal government has handled budget crises: some federal employees work and some stay home, but after the crisis ends, all those employees get back pay as if they’d been working the whole time.
However, Attorney General Madigan has gone to court to block the payment in full of state employees. It may seem odd for a Democrat Attorney General to oppose state employee unions and full payment of workers. But it all makes sense if you look at the politics.
First, obviously, Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s father is Speaker Mike Madigan. Speaker Madigan designed the $4 billion unbalanced budget. He’s been trying to put pressure on Governor Rauner to agree to a $4 billion tax increase and to drop demands for substantial government reform and job creation measures.
Another less obvious point is that large numbers of state workers live in downstate Republican legislative districts. If Attorney General Madigan can stop these folks from being paid, she increases pressure on downstate Republican members to agree to a tax increase and end the budget stalemate.
Still, there are strong pressures on the other side to agree to government and economic reforms. For one, the City of Chicago needs relief from its current pension payments, which have spiked because the City underfunded its pensions for decades. As well, because the City’s bond rating is junk, it can’t just borrow money to pay for government services like it did for years. Moreover, Democrat districts are likely to be hit hard by the budget impasse, especially in Chicago, because of large populations of people living in those districts being served by state government programs.
While there is plenty of room for compromise, the battle lines are drawn, and the fight for the heart and soul of Illinois is underway. Speaker Madigan is used to winning these sorts of fights—he has maintained power, control, and the status quo for decades. But our state faces much more serious problems than it did in the past. Governor Rauner brings business acumen and an outsider’s perspective, even going so far as to say he doesn’t care about re-election, as long as he gets his reforms. This makes him a much more formidable opponent than the Speaker has faced in the past.
I’m supporting Governor Rauner in this fight. We desperately need the economic growth and government reform he’s proposing. And if that means I get yelled at by the other side every time I stand up to speak on the House floor, so be it. Whatever the price, our future is worth it.
With everything going on in Springfield, a lot of folks ask me, "what's going to happen?" They’re worried about the budget crisis, the pension crisis, or one of any number of crises in Illinois state government. While I wish it were otherwise, my typical answer is, "I don't know what will happen, but I sure know what should happen!”
We should promote real job growth, stop spending more than we take in, and reform Illinois government. There are plenty of policy proposals out there to do this. Some proposals are more complex than others, but none of them require a rocket scientist to execute.
Here’s the problem: the debate in Springfield isn’t about which of the available policy changes we should pursue, but whether we should bother with any significant policy changes at all.
You wouldn’t realize that, listening to all the talk from members of the General Assembly. They make it sound like they’re on top of things. The problem isn’t in what you’re hearing, but in what they’re saying. You see, words mean different things in the State Capitol than they do in the rest of the state.
For instance, when you hear politicians advocate for a “balanced approach,” that means they support tax increases. When they say that a spending reduction is “massive,” that means a cut of more than about 5% or so. When they talk about “protecting the middle class,” that means they support new government programs or substantial increases in existing programs, usually without any way to pay for them.
The best way I know to “protect the middle class” is to increase the number of good-paying jobs. Middle class folks in Illinois don’t need more programs—they need more opportunities to work. And they deserve a government that won’t then bleed them dry through corruption, overspending, and excessive taxation.
In the coming weeks and months, ignore the talk and watch what the General Assembly actually does. So far, Speaker Mike Madigan has scheduled week after week of sham votes, on bills that were never meant to become law. That has led to lots of shouting but very little honest debate.
You’ll know we’re making progress if you see debate on real proposals to achieve job growth, balance the budget, and reform government. There are many entrenched special interests in the way, but if we can clear a path for proposals like these, we can achieve the recovery our state desperately needs and wants.
Click here to view a recent ABC 7 story on Rep. Peter Breen's bill to limit law enforcement retention of public license plate reader data, HB 3289. It appears that the legislative pressure from Breen and other privacy-minded representatives has pushed some in law enforcement to self regulate. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said that they only hold this data for 30 days, and the City of Chicago said in a statement, that "license plate data is over-written and not stored unless there is a positive hit on a plate needed for investigative purposes." Breen pointed out, that "during the negotiations, law enforcement did not want to limit retention to less than 33 months and the City of Chicago wanted to keep it indefinitely. This is definitely a positive result of our legislation to limit retention of this type of data and is a small victory for those innocent civilians who do not want to be tracked by the government."
We’re now in the final week of the 2015 General Assembly session, which will conclude when the clock strikes midnight on May 31, this Sunday night. While there have been many bills debated up to now, the “elephants in the room” remain unaddressed. For the first 4 months of our session, Speaker Mike Madigan has prevented consideration of serious compromise measures, to clean up government, rein in property taxes, and get our spending under control.
And, at the end of last week, the majority leaders of the House and Senate told the governor that they would not consider any of his proposed reforms. You see, the governor ran for office on a set of proposals, what he calls his “Turnaround Agenda.” Several months ago, he put together bipartisan working groups to go through the proposals and to negotiate where the Democrat and Republican parties could find common ground. Those good faith compromise bills would then be introduced and debated by the General Assembly.
Strong majorities of Illinoisans support the governor’s ideas for reform, and of course, strong majorities of Illinoisans—essentially the entire state outside of Cook County—supported the governor in the last election. But the bipartisan process has now been brought to a screeching halt by the other side.
In years’ past, this is the point where the special interests would shift into overdrive, the reformers would lose their nerve, and business in Springfield would return to normal. With a wink and a nod, budgets would be busted, bills would be ignored while pet projects were funded, and real reforms would be put off until some uncertain future date.
Not this time, not this year.
The people of Illinois have demanded a clean break from the past, and the governor has publicly committed to stay the course, until we deliver the reforms that our state desperately needs. No more spending money we don’t have. No more special deals for insiders. No more putting off necessary changes to next year.
This may mean a budget doesn’t get done by the end of session this Sunday night. If the other side tries to pass an unbalanced budget, then the governor may keep the General Assembly in session all summer, until we balance our budget. If that’s what it takes, so be it.
You’ll probably see a lot of ink spilled about the fight in Springfield over the next couple months. That’s a good thing, because the people who’ve bankrupted and corrupted our state government won’t go away easily or quietly. The health and well-being of our state hangs in the balance: winning this fight is the only way to truly achieve the “Illinois Turnaround” that we all so desperately want and need.