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Schaumburg: Wake me up when we have term limits

Published: Saturday, March 23, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Those who know me well or read my column regularly when I was editor of the Daily Chronicle know that I’m a cynic, especially when it comes to government.

We are long past the point where anything anybody does in government deserves the benefit of the doubt. There is something behind every decision that goes beyond what’s best for we the people.

Money – more specifically, people who have money – decides policy and at what pace that policy is instituted.

That’s why it was hard for me to generate much excitement this week when separate pension plans passed the Illinois House and Senate.

On Thursday, the state House passed a reform bill, 66-50, that would reduce and delay cost-of-living increases in state employees’ retirement pay. Local state Reps. Jack Franks, D-Marengo; David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills; Timothy Schmitz, R-Batavia; and Barb Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, voted for the bill.

Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, voted against the measure.

The state Senate rejected a comprehensive pension reform package Wednesday that included a similar plan to that in the House before approving a scaled-back plan that addressed only the Teachers’ Retirement System.

The bill would give teachers a choice between health care coverage during retirement or reduced annual cost-of-living increases. It passed 30-22. Local state Sens. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry; Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington; and Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, voted against the bill.

It will be at least two weeks before there is any additional movement on pension reform, because state lawmakers now are on a two-week spring break. Public pension reform has been an urgent matter for at least two years. What’s another two weeks, right?

Plus, unions, lobbyists and big donors need these next two weeks to influence lawmakers on how to proceed.

That might sound harsh, but it’s true. Perhaps it’s too broad a belief because, obviously, some lawmakers are influenced more than others – likely those who have been around for a long time. (See Michael Madigan.)

Being a lawmaker used to be about serving the people who voted him or her into office. Now it’s about serving lobbyists and the lawmaker’s self-interest.

What used to be a calling to public service is now a career. Policy is based on who has the most money, not what is best for the people.

One fix can go a long way in fixing our government – term limits.

To curtail the influence money and lobbyists have on government, you have to limit lawmakers’ exposure to money and lobbyists. If money and greed are out of the equation, lawmaking becomes about public service again instead of a career fueled by power.

Now, there’s an editor likely reading this in Woodstock who will tell you we have term limits that can be enacted in the voting booth. He will argue that the electorate can limit the amount of time somebody is in office by voting them out.

In a perfect world, that is true. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where if more than 20 percent of registered voters cast a ballot, we’re ecstatic. Many of those who vote don’t study the candidates or the issues. Many votes are cast strictly along party lines.

Look at some of the people our state has voted into office.

This is one area where I strongly believe the government needs to be more involved in our lives by introducing term limits.

If we don’t allow lawmakers to stay in office too long, then they can’t become puppets of the lobbyists pouring money into their coffers.

• Jason Schaumburg is editor of the Northwest Herald. This was the best he could do while trying to watch the NCAA tournament. Reach him at 815-459-4122 or via email at jschaumburg@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Schaumy.

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