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McCaleb: ‘Nothing’ is the word of the week in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD – Turns out, no one in the state’s capital thinks pension reform will get passed during Gov. Pat Quinn’s one-day special session either.

I spent the better part of Thursday and Friday in Springfield attending the Illinois Press Association’s annual convention. Dozens of newspaper editors from across the state were in attendance, as were some policy wonks eager to bend our ears.

Every single person I talked to about it was skeptical that anything meaningful would get done Wednesday when the General Assembly reconvenes for its one-issue-only session.

That’s not a surprise, though it is telling about the lack of faith everyone has in our elected state officials.

Speaker of the House Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have done nothing to spur optimism.

The two are heading into the week in opposite corners, with no sign that either is willing to compromise.

Madigan plans to remove Cullerton’s alternate reform package from a bill pending before the House and replace it with his own during a hearing he scheduled for Tuesday.

While not perfect, Madigan’s reform bill is much better than Cullerton’s. It would require state employees to contribute more toward their pensions, reduce cost-of-living increases and raise the retirement age.

Cullerton says Madigan’s proposal is unconstitutional. He proposes giving state retirees a choice between cost-of-living increases and health insurance.

The problem with Cullerton’s plan is that it does little to address the state’s $98 billion pension liability, which grows by about $17 million each day that reform doesn’t happen.

With the pension crisis eating away at the state budget, funneling more and more taxpayer money away from much-needed services, you’d think everyone in the Capitol would be working nonstop until a solution is agreed upon.

Sadly, that’s not the case.

And with so much distance between Madigan and Cullerton on the issue and the two refusing to sit down and discuss a compromise, there’s as much chance of a resolution this week as there is of the Cubs reaching the World Series.

“So what do you think the General Assembly is going to accomplish on Wednesday?” I asked anyone who would engage me on the topic.

“Nothing,” said Diana Rickert, former Northwest Herald reporter who now is director of media relations for the Illinois Policy Institute, a Chicago-based conservative think tank.

“Nothing,” said Eric Olson, former Northwest Herald sports/community/business editor who now is the top editor at the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb.

“Nothing,” said every single person I asked.

So why even bother with the special session?

Politics, of course. Madigan, Cullerton, Quinn and the rest of the bunch have to make it look like they’re trying, even though they’re not. And if they can score some political points at the expense of their rivals, so much the better.

There’s a gubernatorial election next year, and the stakes are high. Not only is Quinn’s future in doubt, Madigan’s daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, is considering a run at the state’s top seat.

Where does all of this leave taxpayers?

Where else? Working harder so they can continue to contribute more to the black hole that is Springfield.

• • •

Home again: Congratulations to the staff of the Northwest Herald, which cleaned up in statewide journalism contests yet again.

For the fourth year in a row and the eighth time in the past 10 years, the Northwest Herald was named by the Illinois Press Association the top midsized daily newspaper in the state.

It’s a point of pride for our staff to win IPA’s sweepstakes, because its trophy is named after Mabel Shaw, one of the founders of Shaw Media, our parent company.

It’s a sad day when we return to McHenry County from the annual IPA convention without Aunt Mabel, which we fondly call the trophy, in tow. We’ve been fortunate to not have to experience that very often in the past decade.

And that’s a testament to the outstanding journalists we have on staff at the Northwest Herald. Congratulations to them.

• • •

Thanks, dad: Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there. Play some golf. Eat a steak. Do something that makes you happy.

It’s your day today. Thanks for all that you do.

• Dan McCaleb of Crystal Lake is group editor of Shaw Media’s suburban publications, which includes the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at dmccaleb@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Dan_McCaleb.

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