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Lyons: Lincoln could have handled pension reform

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The first thing Pat Quinn should have done after another lame budget address was run to the grave of Abraham Lincoln and apologize for daring to quote him from the film “Lincoln.”

He should then apologize individually to Daniel Day-Lewis, Steven Spielberg and everyone in the Illinois phone book whose last name is “Lincoln.”

Abraham Lincoln led our nation through the most difficult period in U.S. history. He unshackled the nation from slavery and presided over a Civil War that killed more than 600,000 Americans.

Pat Quinn is afraid of retired kindergarten teachers.

As usual, Quinn correctly diagnosed that pension reform is the biggest financial issue in Illinois, which is akin to diagnosing that what might be ailing a headless man is the lack of a head.

What we got Wednesday were more obvious points that anyone paying attention already knows: 1. The lack of pension reform is costing Illinois $17 million a day; 2. Within two years, Illinois will spend more paying people who don’t work than it pays for education; 3. The pension system has been grossly underfunded; 4. Automatic cost-of-living raises are unsustainable; and 5. Pension recipients must pay more into the system.

Those are fairly obvious points that few disagree with. Even reasonable pension recipients understand those, in Quinn’s words, “principles” of pension reform.

But based on his speech, from Quinn’s perspective all he needs to do is throw out a few principles and guidelines for the Legislature, which then should pass meaningful pension reform.

“It’s time for you to legislate,” Quinn said.

Presumably, Quinn will just wait patiently for that legislation to magically appear on his desk even though his own party – which now has a supermajority in the Legislature – continues fiddling while Springfield burns.

House Speaker Michael Madigan isn’t leading on pension reform for one reason: He doesn’t want to lead on pension reform. How many Democratic legislators owe their seats to the backing of Illinois public employee unions? They probably wouldn’t have a supermajority without them.

Waiting for Madigan hasn’t worked and isn’t going to work, which is what makes Quinn’s limp leadership so maddening. You’re the top executive officer in the state of Illinois and this is your state’s biggest issue. Why are you off the hook?

As weird as this sounds in a state completely controlled by Democrats, the most sensible thing for Quinn to do is to sit down with Republican legislators who have less to lose and less fear of irking public employee unions to lead on pension reform.

It might have been a crazy enough idea for Abraham Lincoln, who once said, “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”

Ask Democrats what’s absolutely off the table for them and come up with a plan to present to the Legislature.

Be the governor of the state of Illinois instead of the No. 2 guy in your own Democratic Party in the No. 1 dysfunctional state in the union. That’s what Abe would have wanted.

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at kelyons@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinLyonsNWH.

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