If you've been screaming "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!" over $100 Billion in unpaid pension debt, your face has got to be red this morning, Chicken Littles. All that hysteria is totally bogus. At least that's what Senate President John Cullerton said Sunday.
Until Senator Cullerton calmed the concern, most observers assumed Illinois' sliding credit rating and exploding interest rates on debt would force the Illinois General Assembly to move on pension reform during this week's veto session.
Now we know nothing will happen this week. There's no big hurry.
Illinois owes $100 Billion to pensions for teachers, legislative staff, corrections officers, state law enforcement, and public safety employees - money the taxpayers dutifully paid into the state's coffers, but was spent elsewhere. Budget after budget, state lawmakers funneled much of those hard-earned dollars into new programs that increased government dependency and power, rather than deposit the promised amount of dollars into retirement accounts for public sector employees.
But that's nothing to worry about, Senator Cullerton said.
"People really misunderstand the nature of this whole problem. Quite frankly, I don't think you can use the word 'crisis' to describe it at the state level," Cullerton said in an interview on WGN-AM radio.
Illinois' government is dominated by Democrats that have controlled the state's purse strings for over ten years. During those years, Illinois plunged deeper and deeper into debt, while expanding programs that increase the number of state-funded union members. SEIU and AFSCME union members consistently make more demands on their employers and the state for higher wages, better working conditions, and health care benefits, as well as pensions.
The Democratic leadership - Governor Quinn, House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton - do all they can to meet those demands and keep their constituents and campaign workers happy. The unions reward them with more campaign funds, they elect more union-sensitive lawmakers, and the cycle begins again.
The end result? Larger and more sustained Democrat control of Illinois - and more tax burden on the average, hard-working Illinoisans.
Again, that's nothing to worry about. There's plenty of time, Senator Cullerton said.
Here's how much control the Democratic Party has handed over to public sector unions nationwide:
Campaign contribution data from OpenSecrets.org show that while corporations and financial institutions campaign donate to the Republican Party slightly more than they do to the Democratic Party, the overall spread is fairly even between the parties.
But, the figures show, Democrats begin to pull away in the campaign dollar race by getting twice as much financial support from grassroots donations as Republicans.
Ultimately, though, Democrats' campaign golden egg is union contributions. While the number of private sector union members shrinks, the public sector union membership is growing. What does that mean for Democrats?
According to OpenSecrets' figures from 2000 to 2010, the Democrats pulled in $535 Million from unions compared to the Republicans' $33 Million. The unions caused Democrats nationwide to have nearly twice as much to spend on campaigns - $1,151,572,100 - than Republicans - $693,282,664.
With that lopsided campaign contribution reality, it's amazing Republicans did as well electorally as they did from 2000 to 2010.
But the lure of unlimited campaign finances, re-election and power that comes with union funding is often too much for even the most fiscally-conservative Republicans. While well-meaning and passionate GOPers campaign against the abuse of taxpayers and argue against tax increases, too often a substantial number of those same Republicans join the Democrat camp by accepting campaign contributions from public sector unions. In doing so, they betray and dilute one of their party's most attractive and root principles, specifically, limited government.
Illinois Republicans are some of the worse culprits - taking union donations with an implied, if not explicit, promise that those GOP candidates will "take care" of teachers, corrections, public safety and fire protection employees needs. In other words, the public sector unions have nothing to fear, and the promises made to them are safe in Illinois.
So what should Illinois taxpayers expect concerning the public pension crisis in Springfield this week, or the rest of the year?
Expect another smoke and mirrors kabuki show - with perhaps a few minor modifications that the union bosses will promise not to challenge in court - that will do nothing but postpone the crisis with another bandaid approach. Nothing substantial, if anything, will be done to correct the situation. After all, it's not a crisis, according to Senator Cullerton.
The only hope of real change is if the credit ratings organizations see through the distraction and non-partisan entities demand dramatic reform - something similar how the courts mandated a conceal carry law in Illinois - nothing substantial will happen, because the Democrat ruling class and their enabling unions control Illinois halls of power.
And unless voters voice their concern and outrage at the ballot box, Illinois taxpayers will have nothing to say about it.
In the meantime, there's no big hurry. Illinois' unpaid pension obligations might be in a mess, but there's no crisis. Just ask Senator Cullerton.