Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2012, 2:06 pm
The post-election Illinois
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By Scott Reeder
If it weren't for bad luck, Illinois Republicans wouldn't have any luck at all.
At least that's the way a lot folks in the GOP felt last week.
I keep hearing Republicans complain about: The Map, The Money, The Unions, The Madigan Machine. Well, there is an old saying that goes like this: "Excuses are like armpits -- everybody has at least two and they both stink."
At the end of the day, voters failed to see anything distinctly appealing about the GOP candidates who lost. They ran on platforms like "Fire Madigan" rather than "Hire Us."
People need to know why they should vote for someone -- not just who they are voting against.
The ineffectiveness of the GOP strategy speaks for itself: Senate Democrats picked up four seats and will have 40 seats after Jan. 8 -- Senate Republicans will control a mere 19 seats. Illinois House Republicans are down to 47 seats after losing seven spots, and House Speaker Mike Madigan will control a 71-seat veto-proof majority.
Here are some thoughts on how Republican lawmakers got themselves in this predicament:
-- They voted against the temporary income tax hike, but in favor of budgets so big that it will be difficult for the tax to expire.
-- They have failed to offer a detailed proposal for addressing the state pension crisis.
-- They never presented an alternative to the governor's spending proposal.
While it's true those criticisms can be leveled at Democratic legislators as well, that's the point. Voters often see little difference between candidates of either party. And when they fail to differentiate themselves, other factors come into play: The Map, The Money, The Unions ...
Organized labor -- government unions in particular — played a decisive role in helping Democrats gain supermajority status in both houses.
Take a look at how much these unions gave Illinois legislative candidates during this election cycle:
-- American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees: $645,787
-- Illinois Federation of Teachers: $1,098,219
-- Illinois Education Association: $1,080,700
-- Service Employees International Union: $919,598
That money didn't flow out of the goodness of their hearts. It was part of a hard-nosed political calculation designed to ensure taxpayers -- rather than union members -- shoulder the cost of the unfunded pension liabilities. And those liabilities are enormous.
Under the new accounting standards coming into play next year, Illinois will have an unfunded pension liability of more than $200 billion next year.
At the end of the day, for the unions, it's all about finding a way for someone -- other than their members -- to pay for the unfunded pension liability.
The next two years
Neither Illinois Senate President John Cullerton nor Madigan will have a Republican boogeyman to point to when they speak to interest groups or members of their own caucuses.
Blaming anything on a lack of Republican bipartisanship will be nearly impossible.
But here is the flipside to that: Republicans need no longer worry now about whether they will be invited to the table by the majority.
For the next two years at least, they will be sitting alone at the legislative equivalent of a battered card table in the basement.
They can either sit at that table and sulk or use their time in the legislative wilderness to develop alternatives.
"We need to come with our proposals and plans," said state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon. "The Democrats are in the majority and don't have to accept them. In fact, they can just ignore them. But we need to show our plans are different than theirs."
Some of the hot-button issues likely to come up in the next two years are:
-- Raising the minimum wage
-- Extending the income tax increase
-- Addressing the state's staggering pension debt
-- Borrowing to pay the $9 billion in unpaid bills the state has piled up
-- Expanding the sales tax
Most of the fighting will happen within the Democratic caucuses.
Geography, rather than party affiliation, will mark the coming divide within the General Assembly.
Urban Democrats will continue to push a hard-left agenda pitting them against suburban and downstate interests within their own party.
"The ball is really in the Democrats' court now," McCarter said. "They control everything."
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute; firstname.lastname@example.org.