Dear Lame Ducks,
You know who you are — 35 Illinois state senators and representatives who are enjoying, or at least tolerating, your final days in Springfield because you were either defeated in November or decided to get a life that doesn’t involve membership in one of the most dystopian legislatures in the country.
This week technically concludes the 2012 session, so you’re here as “lame ducks” until your replacements are sworn in with the new General Assembly on Jan. 9.
So order one last Horseshoe, Springfield’s iconic artery-busting sandwich. Watch House Speaker Mike Madigan go through his evening dining ritual at Saputo’s Italian eatery. Have one too many with the political insiders at Norb & Andy’s saloon. Say goodbye to old friends.
And keep several important things in mind before the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 8 and you’re turned back into apolitical pumpkins: This is still the “Land of Lincoln” — the state that gave us “Honest Abe” and his legacy of courageous leadership — even if the motto’s been defiled by too many dishonest politicians over the years; you can still represent the best of Abe’s legacy by casting key votes on critical issues like pension reform; and you can make sure your votes are “clean” — not in exchange for anything — because that’s the danger this week.
Ducks doing dirty deals
Two years ago, when Democratic leaders used a lame duck session to increase the state income tax by 67 percent, or $6 billion a year, some of the votes were apparently traded for promises of jobs later.
That may be “politics as usual,” but it’s not ethical because it’s about taking care of the public officials, not the public.
And the deciding vote in the House? Cast by someone who was sent down to Springfield for just one week because the newly elected representative in that district didn’t want to be seated until after the tax vote.
That was the “lamest” lame duck vote of all but perfectly legal in our imperfect political world. You can read my inside account of the episode by searching for “Billion Dollar Baby — a Cautionary Tale.”
The big issues floating around Springfield this week include gay marriage, gun control, gaming and state borrowing, but nothing is more pressing than pension reform — the state’s top fiscal priority and an absolute must now, not later.
We can’t have good government if pensions keep gobbling up more of the limited state budget dollars that now pay for education, health care, social services, public safety and economic development. The gobble rate is $17 million a day.
There are several pension reform options if your “leaders” allow a vote: A sensible and sensitive plan that two House Democrats recently proposed; a bill the Senate approved last spring that’s less ambitious but ends some pension abuse scams, and perhaps a melding of the two.
So lame ducks: Step up and demand a vigorous debate and a vote on some version of pension reform. That’ll prompt the inevitable court challenge that determines what is and isn’t legal.
The time to find out is now.
And please: Cast your vote because it’s right, not profitable.
That would make Abe proud. And it would be anything but lame.
Andy Shaw is president and CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at email@example.com or (312) 386-9097.