CN January 10, 2013

Well, that fragile thread of hope that the Illinois General Assembly might, in its waning hours, find the courage to enact some meaningful pension reforms – that hope vanished pretty quickly, didn’t it?  And nowhere was the criticism more withering  than on the Tribune Editorial pages, so we invited Kristen McQueary, who’s the lead writer for many of their editorials, to visit our little show.

“We’ve been told for years that there was this little window of opportunity in the lame duck session where it was going to happen”, she says. “And I think the first red flag was when the House and Senate came up with differing schedules that didn’t even overlap. It’s very hard to get anything done down there unless you have lawmakers confined to Springfield, away from their families, and they can get down to business. You can at least nudge proposals along.”

“And now they’re not even coming to work for three weeks,” adds WGN-TV’s Randi Belisomo, this weeks other guest, referring to the just-sworn-in new Legislature. “So now nothing will happen. The liability grows, what $17 million a day?”

So is there hope for a short-term solution to the pension crisis? “I wish I had something optimistic to say,” laments Mc Queary. “Now you have a whole new class of freshmen who rightfully can say, look, we need to be brought up to speed on this. I’m not going to take a big vote on something I don’t fully understand. So I think we’re looking at May.”

There’s been an extraordinary amount of discussion about Governor Quinn’s leadership on the pension matter, and this weekend’s collapse is being seen as  major failure of leadership. “I don’t see how he can unwind himself from this at this point”, McQueary concludes.

But what about Rahm Emanuel, the renowned dealmaker? Where was he?

Again, Kristen McQueary: “He went down to Springfield in May, and he got all this great news coverage because he testified before the Committee and floated his own pension plan for city workers, and said then, I’m willing to expend political capital to get this done. He hasn’t lifted a finger since then.”

Both guests express skepticism that the new Legislature, even with its veto-proof Democratic majorities, will be able to enact even classic progressive legislation, such as Marriage Equality and an assault-weapons ban. But both agreed that the permitting of drivers’ licenses for undocumented residents will be a benefit in the long run, because it will reduce costs overall for law enforcement.

Belisomo says that Bill Daley, currently riding a wave of speculation that he might challenge Quinn, might make a more effective governor. “He would have to be attractive to many Democrats,” she claims. “I think he’d be running against Bill Brady, who’ll be running again, so you’ll have two business-oriented people who are gonna be running on a platform of fiscal responsibility, and I think the State could benefit from two people who have exercised leadership in other ways.”

The panel has plenty of witty things to say about the Mell Family and their effort to institute an orderly transition in the 33rd Ward. Perhaps, they agree, Patti Blagojevich, who is apparently unemployed, might be able to assume Deb’s House seat when she moves to the City Council.

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About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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