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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.

Week in Review: Bad Week for Illinois Democrats Gets Worse

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.

Other top state Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon and Attorney General Lisa Madigan, also were heckled. The protest cut short the rally, which takes place every year during the fair.

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.”

Earlier in the week, House Republican leader Rep. Tom Cross said a catastrophic pension-fund collapse may be what it takes for Illinoisans to understand the urgency of pension reform.

“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

BDen August 24, 2012 at 05:12 PM
What studies? anyuone can say "studies" but without specifics it is just Saran wrap. My colleagues and I are all getting less than in the private sector..20 to 40 % less.
deena August 25, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Illinois needs to clean house big time.
Carol B Davis August 26, 2012 at 02:05 PM
All State Workers pay into their pension plans, but not all take their pensions. Many take their husband/wive's pensions; some die; some take other pensions they have paid into. Are you suggesting this is like a savings account and those who pay into the plan should be paid back the funds they pay into the plan if it is not use. A 401K style plan would not work any better if the state did not pay its share.
David Equinstein August 29, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Here's a quick way to cut government spending eliminate township government which is duplicated with every surrounding county, city, etc. And cut the salaries of the Forest preserve Commissioners and President. The 6 Part-Time Commissioners from the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County each get paid $53,500 a year plus full-time benefits and a taxpayer subsidized pension for maybe 1,000 hours a year and they just sit there! Not one of the Commissioners has said a word at the meeting about the FBI's investigation. Here is one of the articles http://elmhurst.patch.com/articles/fbi-investigates-dupage-forest-preserve-contracts-a19cbfe2#comments_list about the investigation that the DCFPD President Dewey Pierotti keeps saying (even yelling at citizens on 8/14) that there is no investigation. We need new Forest Preserve Commissioners at a pay of maybe $25,000 a year.
Max January 08, 2013 at 06:28 PM
Olddeegge, Do you refer to Michael as Mike in person?

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