CHICAGO - Last week's latest credit downgrade may have been the final blow. The legacy of political boss Mike Madigan may finally be at stake. The unresolved state employee pension crisis and the mounting unpaid obligations seems to have pushed Madigan to his limits. Of course, it's hard to tell with him.
But if the letter Madigan sent to the Mike Carrigan, head of 'We Are One' state employees' coalition, is a true reflection of Madigan's "mood," and not simply a public charade, the Speaker is ready to shrug off union demands and push through a pension remix the unions won't like. After the hundreds of millions of dollars the unions have spent at Madigan's behest over the decades, it seems unlikely he would do such a thing. But with the Democrats in total control of all branches of government - with little threat from the Republicans - what does the Speaker have to fear?
Dear Mr. Carrigan:
I’d like to respond to your January 22, 2013 letter regarding the need to develop legislative solutions to address the underfunding of the state’s pension systems. Your interest in taking a more active role on this issue is welcome.
However, your suggestion of a meeting in Burr Ridge is not timely. A summit on this topic could have been called several years ago when we first started to grapple with this complex and controversial topic. A number of proposals have advanced since that time, but we have not been able to assemble the necessary bipartisan coalition to approve a plan that would stabilize the state systems for current and future retirees.
Bipartisan? When was the minority Party invited to the table?
A plan? Haven't the Democrats implemented their plan - raising taxes?
Your letter implies pension reforms faltered because the concerns of labor were not considered. In my view, the positions of organized labor were taken into account during the 2012 legislative session. I recall no fewer than eight high-level meetings that took place with labor, legislative leaders and the governor. At that time, I felt there was little willingness from representatives of labor to draft a comprehensive, common-sense solution.
The residents of Illinois have been asked to shoulder a higher tax burden in recent years.
What Madigan won't say is that all these problems are the result of his policies that bought contituencies by offering ever more taxpayer-funded programs that chased businesses and jobs out of Illinois. When those are gone, more citizens become dependent on government, and the cycle of poverty grows larger, which leads to less tax revenue and thus a further inability to pay the salaries and pensions that were promised in exchange for votes to put your Party in power and make Madigan the longest serving Speaker of the House in U.S. history.
For several years, Illinois has had to address very serious issues, including rising pension, Medicaid and state healthcare costs, all of which have contributed to the state’s massive budget pressures. The state has reduced spending in many areas, but costs for pensions continue to increase and unions representing state employees insist that salaries be increased. Many state lawmakers understand the difficult situation before us, having voted to cut their own legislative pay the last four years.
So...the unions that were his friends and put him in power are now ungrateful and "uncooperative."
To date, we have received no cooperation from the labor unions representing state employees on addressing these challenges. In fact, these unions often have been strongly opposed to any attempt to solve the problem. For example, AFSCME recently said it will not ratify a contract that decreases the take-home pay of its employees.
It is worth noting a recent editorial points out that of the 12 most populous states, Illinois has the fourth highest average state worker pay, including overtime, and information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Kaiser Family Foundation shows that Illinois state workers pay significantly less for their insurance premiums than those in the private sector.
And now Madigan informs them their to fall in line, since he's the boss and there is no opposition Party that threatens his reign. An "elected" monarch. Welcome to reality public employees.
It is time for labor to come to the table with an honest proposal that recognizes the state’s serious fiscal condition and puts government employees on par with those in the private sector relative to a benefits package. One measure introduced in the 98th General Assembly, House Bill 98 sponsored by Rep. Elaine Nekritz, includes a series of proposals that would put Illinois on a path to preserving the state’s pension systems. We must also look for fresh ideas to end the practice of state payments for non-state workers. I look forward to your thoughts on both topics.
I look forward to your announcement of support of reforms that helps the state address its budget pressures and preserves the pension systems for the employees counting on them.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
With kindest personal regards, I remain
MICHAEL J. MADIGAN
Speaker of the House
Carrigan and the 'We Are One' coalition is likely going to try and challenge Madigan rule through the courts. It's already happening, with the courts ruling it illegal to charge public employee retirees more for their health care. Expect additional lawsuits.
And like the unions, the taxpayers haven't an opposition Party that is presently a going concern. In fact, too often ILGOP legislators have been the willing co-conspirators, which has been reflected in the polls over the last decade. It will be interesting to see how the Republicans play this one. Don't hold your breath.
War is about to break out on the "left". Pull up a seat for the return salvo.