Former State Rep. Jeanne Ives, currently running for Congress, offers the following commentary in today’s Chicago Tribune. It is reprinted with her permission.
Commentary: Illinois’ bloated budget needs a crash diet … again
In Illinois, the only good thing about the fact that nothing ever changes is that all of the op-eds you wrote seven years ago remain true today.
I was inaugurated as an Illinois state representative in January 2013.
By July 2013, the naivete with which I had entered the Illinois House had worn off.
I went to Springfield to defend taxpayers, so getting pension reform implemented was critical.
In Springfield, however, pension reform bills were task-forced to death by then-Gov. Pat Quinn and his cartoon mascot, “Squeezy The Pension Python,” and the media were pressuring legislators to just get something done to reform pensions.
At that point in time, Illinois’ unfunded pension liability was close to $100 billion; it is now more than $138 billion.
With the inaction on pensions reaching fever pitch among all parties involved, I decided to write about Illinois’ bloated government.
I found that as a House member in the superminority and under Speaker Michael Madigan’s rules, I had little power through my vote.
But I had some power through my pen (or keyboard).
I penned an opinion piece for the Chicago Tribune that they accepted and titled, “Illinois needs to get on a serious weight-loss program.”
I look back at what I wrote then and can’t believe how much worse off our state has become.
In that article, I wrote a parody about Illinois government needing to lose weight, stating,
State leaders’ appetite for grease-laden power and political control has led to a $100 billion crisis that is clogging the arteries and slowing the flow of blood to the heart of Illinois.
Figuratively speaking, we Illinoisans can no longer button our pants.
I thought the line was clever — but it was also true.
Fast-forward to last weekend: Senate President Don Harmon, who just a month ago asked for a $41 billion bailout from the federal government, helped pass the biggest budget in the history of Illinois that included a $1,800 pay raise for all state legislators.
Pile on the second helpings and desserts.
But in 2013, the response from Gov. Quinn was far different.
He was so mad at the legislature, which his party controlled, that he used the amendatory veto process to zero-out legislative pay in one of the budget bills for fiscal year 2014.
He decided that until the Illinois legislature passed pension reform, salaries of lawmakers would be withheld.
Instead of rewarding legislators with a pay hike, he punished legislators for not getting the job done.
The media and citizens cheered, of course.
In my 2013 opinion piece, I also suggested a good weight loss program requires vision.
Let’s “tape a picture of our slimmer, sexier sister, Indiana, to the refrigerator.”
The comparison still stands. In the midst of an economic meltdown, Illinois Democrats just passed a budget more than 6% larger than last year’s budget.
Our “slimmer, sexier sister Indiana,” also facing diminished revenues because of the economic shutdown, passed a budget two days before Illinois with a 15% decrease in spending.
What in the world is wrong in Springfield?
Both Senate President Harmon and Speaker Madigan were around in 2013. They remember what happened.
They also remember that voters still kept them in power.
They are expecting the budget and pay raises will be long forgotten by the November election.
It will be up to voters to hold them accountable at the ballot box.
True in 2013 when I wrote it, still true today:
There are no quick fixes, diet pills or miracle creams to solve the problem. Major reform, like weight loss, requires commitment, hard work and true lifestyle changes. As one fitness guru might say, ‘Stop the insanity!’
Jeanne Ives is a former state representative, candidate for governor and the Republican nominee for Congress in Illinois’ 6th District.