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Quoting myself

Wednesday, Dec 19, 2012

* Matt Dietrich was at my City Club speech and filed this report

“It’s very possible that nothing is gonna get done [on pension reform in the lame duck session],” Miller told members of the City Club of Chicago.

But isn’t this THE big issue right now? And isn’t the lame duck session THE perfect time to take on this kind of controversial issue? This year, 35 lame duck lawmakers leave office on Jan. 9. They can make unpopular votes without worry of voter backlash. That’s how Gov. Pat Quinn passed his income tax increase two years ago.

Yes and no, Miller said. There’s still no consensus among majority Democrats on pension reform in the General Assembly. By comparison, raising the income tax in January 2011 was easy, Miller said.

“Raising taxes was a Democratic issue,” Miller explained. “It’s hard to keep Democrats from voting for a tax increase.” […]

Miller also offered a history lesson to those who believe the super majorities the Democrats will have beginning Jan. 9 will allow the party to pass legislation at will then freely override any opposition from the governor. Because of House Speaker Mike Madigan’s longevity and reputation for tight control of his members, there’s been speculation that the House, especially, will benefit from its veto-proof majority.

Not so, said Miller.

“He’s often said that other than the two years he spent in the minority under (House Speaker) Lee Daniels, the worst two years in his career was when he had a super majority in ’91 and ’92,” Miller said. “Because leading a chamber is like herding cats. And leading a chamber with a super majority is like herding insane cats.”

When a party’s votes are plentiful, Miller explained, members don’t want to vote on bills that might stir trouble for them in the next election.

“People don’t want to do anything, man,” Miller said. “It’s like, ‘We’ve got all these members. Why do I have to vote on this stupid bill? Why don’t you get the guys who are going to lose next year to vote on this stupid bill?’”


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 11:16 am:

    A thin veto-proof majority also can give members — especially those looking to move on — a lot of leverage with a governor.

    And despite what you might read or hear in other quarters, governor is still the most powerful position in Illinois.

  2. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 11:17 am:

    === And leading a chamber with a super majority is like herding insane cats ===

    That’s got to be up there with Trotter’s “(running) from you” for quote of the year.

    That said, legislators sure are putting in the time and effort to make progress on driver’s licenses for unauthorized immigrants, gay marriage, medical marijuana, gambling and (now) concealed carry and gun laws.

    Be kind of sad (pathetic? outrageous?) if all those come to pass with nothing on pensions. It’s not going to get easier on January 9th.

  3. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 11:23 am:

    The best line of your’s yesterday was about your alternate career plan if the Fax didn’t work out. I’m still chuckling about that.

  4. - walkinfool - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 11:32 am:

    “governor is still the most powerful position”

    I’d add “usually”, given the power assumed by the GA to force the Gov. to break negotiated contracts for pay.

    The other advantage for a thin majority, is that it lessens the argument used by the opposing caucus when avoiding any tough issue: “they should do it without any help from us; they got the votes”.

  5. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 11:33 am:

    47th, it has the additional benefit of being true.

  6. - Jaded - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 11:34 am:

    =This year, 35 lame duck lawmakers leave office on Jan. 9. They can make unpopular votes without worry of voter backlash.=

    What makes anyone believe that lame-duck legislators want to vote to reduce or limit pensions for teachers, university employees, and state employees and then go back to their districts to live with, teachers, university employees and state employees.

    Or how about a cost shift that makes local school districts raise property taxes that will affect EVERONE back home. If I was a lame duck, I’d be saying, “have fun with this issue next year, I’m outta here!”

  7. - Prentiss - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 11:34 am:

    Sheesh….you have a veto proof supermajority, you got to draw the electoral districts, you got one of your own in the White House, interest rates for borrowing are at an all time low, there is an insatiable demand for Illinois bonds….

    What exactly ELSE do you need to governor Illinois properly???

  8. - Jaded - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 11:35 am:

    …and I’ve actually spoken with some lame ducks that are saying that very thing.

  9. - Secretariat - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 11:41 am:

    Dysfunctional!! Becoming a Hoosier is looking more attractive! Indiana actually has a Governor and Legislature that can pass major initiatives! Ahh, but we Illini do have SQUEZZY THE PYHTON!!

  10. - walkinfool - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 11:48 am:

    It comes down to the old political dilemma: Do I do what’s best for the state in the long term, or do I do what’s good for me and my most involved constituents?

    It seems some “lame ducks” are more able to focus on the first option; they should have been doing that all along. It’s why we have a republican form of democracy.

  11. - M Smith - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 11:49 am:

    I really would like to see someone come up with a plan. Current workers & retirees say its the lawmaker’s problem since they did their part but don’t offer any suggestions/concessions they would make. Those of us under 50 need to think about what happens if we continue with this debt. Just to annoy everyone, you can look at IDOT’s website & see that secretaries now start at over $50k per year. Not suggesting sec’s don’t work hard but geesh - that’s more than positions requiring degrees.

  12. - Jimmy - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:05 pm:

    The plan will emerge when Moody’s and Fitch downgrade Illinois’ credit rating several notches on January 9th or 10th.

  13. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:23 pm:

    Jimmy, if wordslinger hasn’t posted a response to your credit rating screed he will shortly.


  14. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:29 pm:

    This is perfect. Folks saying that with a super majority you can really get things done and others saying it ain’t that easy. Group dynamics theory at work. Certain subsets exist in every group of people. The niches will be filled. You will have gate-keepers, moderators, go along folk and naysayers no matter how homogeneous the group appears to be.

    Herding insane cats is a good way to put it.

    Rule of 85 may be safe for now. And all the rest.
    I focus more and more on my plans for retirement as I get closer. Looking for more certainty has been worrying. I don’t mind having to pay some more for healtcare and for my pension but that changes as I get closer. Hard to be/pretend to be altruistic after a point.

  15. - Michelle Flaherty - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:34 pm:

    Re-Booters needed you to explain that to them? I thought they were hired because of their vast knowledge of state government. They shouldn’t need to quote others on session politics 101.

  16. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:35 pm:

    Gee, DD, what am I supposed to say? Prunella? Not to parse words, but what is that supposed to communicate, anyway?

    I wouldn’t call what Jimmy wrote a “screed,” either, which has a precise definition. More a statement of possibility.

    But then, I try to be clear in both my thinking and writing.

  17. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:42 pm:

    Oh, word, if someone posts something about credit ratings and bonds and all that, you are all over it like flies on crap. Or maybe you don’t want to remember your frequent postings on the subject.

    Screed was a bit over the top, tho, I admit. Just wanted to use the word.

  18. - Small Town Liberal - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:43 pm:

    - Gee, DD, what am I supposed to say? Prunella? Not to parse words -

    I just about lost a mouthfull of my afternoon coffee.

  19. - Small Town Liberal - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:46 pm:

    - Oh, word, if someone posts something about credit ratings and bonds and all that -

    What word typically argues is that the rating agency boards are idiotic in questioning the state’s debt, and that a lot of organizations would have a big incentive to change their rules regarding investment ratings if the state falls below investment grade.

    I don’t think he’s ever questioned that the potential downgrade is a real problem.

    But then again, would hate to parse.

  20. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:46 pm:

    Oh, Prunella.

    What an ultra-maroon.

    Doesn’t anybody watch old Bugs Bunny cartoons anymore?

  21. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:48 pm:

    DD, I do post a lot on bonds and the credit rating agencies when I have something to say about it. Don’t see anything to comment about on Jimmy’s post.

    But your anticipation is duly noted.

  22. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:51 pm:

    If I remember correctly, word would comment that folks would not stop buying the bonds even if the ratings were to drop as the return on investment is secure. In that event, the state would have no problem securing the funds thru the sale which makes the ratings drops essentially meaningless. How that could at some point be determined to be a problem didn’t seem to enter the discussion.

    But then, I wouldn’t want to step on the comedy parade.

  23. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:56 pm:

    DD, your recollections on what I’ve said in the past and am likely to say in the future would be a fascinating topic for your own blog. Once you have it all figured out, let me know, and I’ll be there.

    Until then, I think I’ll just let folks focus on the actual thread posted by the host.

  24. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 1:07 pm:

    I am looking forward to reading what others write as well. Too bad there was a misunderstanding as to what I was trying to do.

    I will say again it is amusing that the GA and the Gov would find it difficult to get anything done even with their supermajority. Perhaps we can blame it on the GOP?

  25. - titan - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 1:14 pm:

    @ M Smith “Current workers & retirees say its the lawmaker’s problem since they did their part but don’t offer any suggestions/concessions they would make.”

    My teacher friends say they’ll take a cut in the pensions they’ve earned - the same cuts that are imposed upon the state’s bondholders (and every other state expenditure). In some ways, they have a point.

  26. - RNUG - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 1:17 pm:

    Prentiss @ 11:34 am:

    – What exactly ELSE do you need to governor Illinois properly??? –

    Common sense and integrity, both of which seem to be soley lacking

  27. - M Smith - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 2:22 pm:

    Well said titan. It seems most of the people I see commenting are not willing to take any concessions. Other than those in the very low income brackets, there will have to be reductions. I only wish I could receive what my ss & pension statements say I will but that’s 15 years away so just not realistic.

  28. - regular democrat - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 2:49 pm:

    City Club now that’s big time good for you

  29. - Anon. - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 2:53 pm:

    ==My teacher friends say they’ll take a cut in the pensions they’ve earned - the same cuts that are imposed upon the state’s bondholders (and every other state expenditure). In some ways, they have a point.==

    Since the pension obligations are a contractual debt of the State, the same as its obligations to pay vendors and bondholders, they have an excellent point, morally and legally.

  30. - walkinfool - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 2:54 pm:

    Michelle F: Love your comment. Short and sweet.

    Re-booters already starting to sound more like the Illinois Policy Institute, than anything truly non-partisan. I do hope for better from them, but beginning to lose faith.

  31. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 3:40 pm:

    How cool is that? The next thing you know, Rich Miller is going to need a Press Flack!

    I do love the question about how you got started and your “Plan B”. There is a joke somewhere, but you and 47 or right on it; its funny on its own merits, and even funnier because its true.

    Good stuff ….

  32. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 9:39 pm:

    @dupage dan -

    It’s not easy to “solve” the pension problem for a number of very simple reasons. Let me give you a few:

    1. There are 457 separate public pension systems in Illinois, with a combined membership of over 1 million (active and annuitants). That means roughly 1 in 9 adults.

    2. The only “fair” solution requires a time machine, which we lack.

    3. The options we have left are worse and worser, and its tough to build consensus around “worse”.

    4. It’s also hard to build alliances around a plan that hinges on breaking promises, and the only options we have left really involve broken promises to someone.

    At the same time, the longer we wait, the fewer options we have left, and pretty soon that will be “worser.” Before long, the only choice will be:
    1) eliminating publicly funded health benefits entirely for state retirees;
    2) privatizing every single state job unless otherwise prohibited by statute (state troopers are probably safe, but not many others);
    3) eliminating every single non-core state program, and a few core ones too;
    4) ending state subsidies of teacher’s pensions completely;
    5) balancing the remaining pension deficit on the backs of new hires.

    Pretty crappy, eh?

  33. - RNUG - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 11:15 pm:


    Your #1 is irrelevant. I’m not saying some of the other systems which, for the large part, reside under IMRF aren’t seeing a strain, but in terms of the State level discussion, only 5 systems need to be fixed: TRS, SURS, SERS, GARS & JRS. That’s the $95B or so hole. And yes, membership is huge.

    And as far as #2, the fairest solution is to tax everyone who benefited from the low tax rates over the past 40 some years, which is both current taxpayers and retirees. And the way to do so is through the state income tax. If you want to continue the current retirement income exemption to some extent, make it a new “surcharge tax” of 1% or 2% specifically for the pensions and based on income; a tax that everyone has to pay without exception. That way all the people, including retirees, who have benefited end up paying something.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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