- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The (Bloomington) Pantagraph

No wonder lawmakers play games

Don’t play video games at work. Especially, don’t play video games at work where your boss can see you.

That seems pretty simple, pretty straightforward. Even the newest, most unaware employee should understand that playing games on company time is a bad idea.

But a few weeks ago, two Democrat state representatives, Kate Cloonen of Kankakee and Mike Smiddy of Hillsdale, were caught by TV cameras playing video games in the House chambers during a fairly significant debate on education funding.

The two were embarrassed and the mini-controversy blew over. But can you really blame rank-and-file members for playing games while the legislature is in session?

Last week was a pretty good example. A “working group’” of rank-and-file legislators had been meeting for several weeks, trying to find a budget agreement that would work for both Republicans and Democrats. The group met in secret, but most observers said progress was being made.

But in one afternoon, Madigan said the working group wasn’t working and he pushed through his own version of a state budget. The actual 500-word budget document was released just hours before it was approved by the House. The vote was so rushed that it had to be done again the next day to follow House rules.

We seriously doubt that most of those voting on the budget really knew what was in it. No matter, the vote was along largely party lines. House Democrats don’t need to study the issues; they just need to ask Madigan how to vote.

For years, the joke in Springfield has been that legislators are like “mushrooms; kept in the dark and fed a lot of manure.” President Barack Obama referred to that joke in a speech he made to the Illinois General Assembly earlier this year.

But there’s a lot of truth in that statement. We send a lot of representatives to Springfield, and pay them a lot of money, to do little more than sit around and wait for the leaders and the governor to hammer out their differences. It’s not only a waste of time and money, but it’s a waste of talent. There are a lot of smart people in the Illinois General Assembly who want to solve problems and move this state forward. But since their names aren’t Rauner, Cullerton or Madigan, their efforts are mostly wasted.

Legislators shouldn’t play games during debates. They especially shouldn’t play games within public view.

However, if you look at what’s going on in Springfield, it’s the taxpayers that are getting Candy Crushed.

___

May 31, 2013

The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald

Madigan, Democrats vote to extend budget debacle

Despite the pain and controversy that followed Illinois going an entire year without an approved budget, Democrats in the Illinois House of Representatives have voted once again to pass an unbalanced budget certain to be vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

That is bad enough. What’s worse is the way in which it was done.

The budget plan, a 500-page document, was introduced in the House last Wednesday and voted on the same day, after Democrats voted to end debate.

Then 63 members of the House, all of them Democrats under the command of House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), voted in favor. Nine Democrats joined the House’s 44 Republicans in voting “no,” including Rep. Jack Franks of Marengo.

How many of those who voted in favor had even read through what they were voting for?

Perhaps those capable of both speed-reading and with a wonkish mastery of the complex finances of a state with more than 12 million people, and maybe a trusted few who were allowed any input into the Speaker’s budget decisions.

We suspect the vast majority of Democrats simply did as they were told and voted yes.

This is the government we are getting in Illinois.

State Rep. Bob Pritchard accused his colleagues of ignoring the issues, and that’s certainly a fair assessment. House lawmakers approved a spending plan with a $7.2 billion deficit, despite the fact there has been no discussion about where the money to close that gap will come from.

There are also consent decrees and court orders requiring our state to continue funding certain services at 2015 levels, when the state was taking in considerably more in taxes. There are pension obligations that are consuming more and more of Illinois’ revenue. These issues, too, are being ignored.

The House has multiple appropriations committees whose job is supposed to be to help craft the budget. That work is not being done. Rank-and-file lawmakers were meeting independently to try to reach some compromises that could bring about a budget deal - their work was dismissed by Madigan as “not persuasive.”

What does appear persuasive is Madigan’s desire to show Rauner and the rest of Illinois that he is the one in charge.

So long as Madigan is in charge, this is the government we will get. It’s one where issues are ignored, budgets are passed with only cursory debate, and our state’s crisis situation appears set to deepen.

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May 31, 2016

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

AFSCME falls short again

Legislative supporters of unionized state employees lack the clout to intervene on their behalf in contract talks.

Almost lost amid all the excitement surrounding last week’s state’s budget travails was another legislative vote on a proposal to strip Gov. Bruce Rauner of his authority to negotiate a contract with a union representing nearly 40,000 state workers.

For the second time in less than a year, the Legislature failed to override Rauner’s veto of the ill-conceived legislation.

Although the vote was relatively close, the outcome was no great surprise. Legislators upheld Rauner’s veto of nearly identical legislation in late 2015.

When the Democrat-controlled House and Senate recently passed a new bill to remove Rauner from ongoing negotiations with AFSCME and transfer decision-making authority to an independent arbitrator, they did so without enough votes to override another Rauner veto.

So perhaps taxpayers can breath a sigh of relief that this threat to fiscal sanity has been finally rejected.

At the same time, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan has a campaign issue he can use to turn out the organized labor vote in the November 2016 election. Since Madigan had to be well aware of the potentially catastrophic effort of the legislation, that’s probably all he cared about from the beginning.

Even by Illinois’ tawdry standards, this legislation was bad.

Elected by all the people to be the state’s chief executive, the governor has and ought to retain the authority to decide how much the state can afford to spend in contract negotiations with state employees. Giving the authority to decide how much the state should spend to an unelected arbitrator made absolutely no sense.

Majority Democrats in the General Assembly essentially conceded that point when they wrote the legislation so that it would apply only to the Republican governor. If it is such a great idea, why not make the arbitration process permanent?

The reason is that Rauner won’t accede to AFSCME salary and benefits demands in ongoing negotiations, the reason being that Illinois is effectively bankrupt. It has no money to give. AFSCME was confident an arbitrator would provide what the governor won’t.

So what of the contract dispute now?

After months of fruitless negotiations, Rauner has asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board to declare an impasse.

A state official has been hearing testimony on the questions - are further negotiations pointless? - and will issue a recommendation that will be heard by the labor board.

If an impasse is declared, Rauner has the authority to implement his final offer. If the union chooses, it can resist by going on strike.

The governor already has pledged in writing not to lock out state employees, so any work stoppage is up to union members.

If the labor board concludes that negotiations are not at an impasse, both parties will be required to return to the bargaining table.

It’s unfortunate, but no great surprise, that Rauner and AFSCME have not made more progress. The governor has reached contracts with state employees representing 18 different unions, but talks with AFSCME have been acrimonious from the beginning.

Accustomed to using its political clout in previous negotiations to winning concessions at the bargaining table, AFSCME leadership simply hasn’t been willing to accept the state’s dire financial condition as something that should affect their contract package. That’s why it tried an end run around Gov. Rauner.

Now that the idea of legislative intervention has been resolved, labor law will prevail. One way or another, this deal will eventually get done.

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