Posted Online: March 07, 2013, 3:25 pm

Editorial: Forcing Madigan's hand?

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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus

Gov. Pat Quinn Wednesday unveiled what he called the most difficult budget of his administration. But with its too generous revenue projections and failure to take into account raises given to state workers, it wasn't difficult enough.

None of that matters, of course. On Wednesday, he acknowledged it. "If I could issue an executive order to resolve the pension crisis, I would. And I would have done it a long time ago. It's time for you to legislate," he said, adding, "What are you waiting for?"

It had to have been a rhetorical question. Everyone in that Statehouse chamber knew not for what, but for whom, they are waiting, the stoic man standing behind the governor: Speaker Michael J. Madigan. Until the Great and Powerful Oz of state government deigns to lead on a pension crisis sucking up $1 of every $5 the state has to spend, nothing will ever happen.
Newspaper editorial pages, including this one, have been calling for leadership from the speaker. But in the wake of Wednesday's latest exercise in futility, it's time for voters to act swiftly and without letup.

So take a moment to read the following excerpted from the State Capitol's top newspaper, then do more than that: Bombard lawmakers with calls and emails. Demand a revolution of sorts. The speaker may not have to listen to us, but he must listen to the members who elect him — if they stand together — and they must heed the voters who put them there.
Locally, contact state Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson, (309) 343-8000, fax (309) 343-2683;; Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Rock Island, 309-558-3612; fax 309-793-4764; Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, 309- 848-9098,

The speech Illinoisans need to hear

The (Springfield) State-Journal Register

Gov. Pat Quinn gave his budget speech on Wednesday.
It was the governor's day to make the news, but his speech long will be forgotten when May 31 rolls around and the legislature (hopefully) passes a budget.

That's because the most important institution when crafting the budget is the legislature. And the most important legislator when it comes to crafting this budget and budgets in the decades to come is House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, D-Chicago.

Madigan's role is more outsized this year than usual because he is the only member of the "five tops" (Statehouse nomenclature for the governor and the four legislative leaders) who has not made his position on pension restructuring known.

As has been repeated ad nauseam over the past several years, the amount the state has to spend on pensions is growing at an unsustainable rate that will force the state to cut what it spends on services -- education, health care, public safety -- that are important to the public.

Without restructuring the pension systems, other priorities will continue to be squeezed.

All that's publicly known about Madigan's position is that he is for doing something, and he's for shifting the cost of teacher and university pensions away from state government and to those local institutions. The rest is a mystery.

What does he think of Senate President John Cullerton's plan to offer employees a choice between cutting COLAs or having access to state health care and having raises count toward pensions? Cullerton wants that plan to be part B of a plan in which part A is a more unilateral bill that cuts and freezes COLAs, raises the retirement age and increases employee contributions. Under Cullerton's bill, which is supported by Quinn, part B would go into effect if part A is declared unconstitutional.

Does Madigan favor that approach? Cullerton thinks the speaker would be OK with it. Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, thinks Madigan actually supports the effort by her and House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, that comprises part A. Yes, in the bizarre interpersonal relations Madigan maintains with his counterparts, even they don't really know what he's thinking or wants to do.

Madigan put four pension proposals up for a vote on the House floor and was the only lawmaker to vote for all four. But three were comically villainous ideas that only the fringe elements have proposed. They were also unconstitutional. Even longtime Statehouse observers entranced by the speaker's legislative voodoo were dumbfounded by the maneuver. What did putting four proposals -- three of which will never be in the final pension product -- up for a vote prove?

A more useful exercise might have been to put individual elements of the Nekritz-Cross bill up for votes to test how far they are from the 60 votes needed to pass. That would at least be informative compared to last week's charade.

Better yet, Madigan could lead. He finally could say what he's for and use his vaunted political skills to pass it. Everyone knows Madigan's No. 1 priority -- forever and always -- is to keep the Democrats in the majority in the Illinois House so he can remain speaker. But what's the point if you don't try to solve the state's biggest problem? Is being in Springfield during the winter and chowing down at Saputo's really that much fun?

Yes, Gov. Pat Quinn gave a speech Wednesday. But the most important speech is the one Madigan has yet to give.