Lawmakers don't care for Quinn's tone
SPRINGFIELD — While many central Illinois lawmakers didn't disagree with what Gov. Pat Quinn said in his budget message Wednesday, many of them didn't like the tone.
Quinn repeatedly blasted lawmakers for not acting on public pension reforms that he said were urgently needed in order to save the state an estimated $17 million a day.
"What are you waiting for?" he asked the senators and representatives who sat mostly in stunned silence during the 25-minute address.
"It's time for you to legislate," he said at another time.
But Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, who was Quinn's opponent in the 2010 gubernatorial election, said the governor "has had five years to lead on a pension bill and he has failed to do so. He can't seem to get that done."
Brady insisted that Quinn hurt his cause with the speech.
"Here was a 'Mr. Rogers' style of lecturing the Illinois General Assembly that I don't think is going to move the ball forward," Brady said. "The support he heard during his exit (from the House chamber), from his own side of the aisle, was minimal. I think people here are tired of his style of politics and governing."
Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, did not disagree with Brady.
"I think there are a lot of people in the General Assembly who have been working on solutions to the pension problem, and for the governor to say that there has been a complete lack of action — when I think there has been limited action out of the governor's office — might set back a solution," Frerichs said. "If he's really interested in getting something done rather than lecturing the General Assembly, it would be good to convene groups together and sit down for the hours it's going to take to reach a solution."
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford said he "supported the governor in identifying the No. 1 issue as the state's public pension systems." But he added, "His style and my style might be a bit different."
Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said Quinn "talked tough" but that he should "put his name on legislation and shepherd it through the process."
"What we've seen in the past is that he'll give a speech, he'll demand action and then no one will hear from him again until it's time for the next speech," he said. "So I don't think there will be much of a positive outcome from today's speech."
Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, said Quinn's tone "made it sound like he was angry with us. I don't know that he necessarily helped himself. But people got the message. Still, I think people have been taking this seriously all along. We're not children."
"It looked like he was talking down to us," acknowledged Rep. Josh Harms, R-Watseka, "but he's the governor, he can do what he wants."
Quinn said in his budget speech that he had met last week with the four legislative leaders to discuss pension issues, although Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said later that she thought "the purpose of the meeting was to say we had a meeting."
House Minority Leader Tom Cross said the sit-down "lasted about 5 to 8 minutes, maybe."
Quinn and three of the leaders waited more than an hour for Speaker of the House Michael Madigan to show, Cross said.
"It was a lot of waiting and then a lot of nothing after that," Cross said. "The speaker had another meeting going on so we kept waiting."
Brady, meanwhile, objected to what he called a "cost shift" to property taxpayers and tuition payers in the steepest budget cuts — $310 million to elementary and secondary education, and $80 million to higher education — in Quinn's budget.
"It does nothing but shift his failures onto the backs of hard-working Illinois families. I presume this budget is dead on arrival. It should be," Brady said.
But Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said he thought it was Quinn's best speech.
"I give him credit for that," Rose said. "I thought he framed the issue correctly, which is that when the pension payment goes up a billion dollars, something else has to give."
But he objected to what he said were inequitable cuts to education that affected downstate Illinois versus Chicago.
"It's almost a declaration of war on downstate Illinois because he cut school transportation funding to 19 percent, but he increased the poverty grant — the Chicago Public Schools' bread and butter," Rose asserted. "There's gross unfairness in how he attributed the actual cuts. He tore into downstate pretty good."
Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said an increase in funding for public assistance combined with the cuts in education "won't sell very well in my area."
But both Frerichs and Jakobsson said that further budget cuts to education were practically inevitable.
"With the current financial state I think there will be some cuts," Frerichs said. "My goal would be to lessen the severity of those cuts."
"I'm pretty sure there are going to be cuts," Jakobsson agreed. "That being said, I don't know what the cuts will be. He wants to cut K-12 and higher ed while he also wants to make sure that early childhood is funded. That's wonderful, but what are they going to do after early childhood if we keep cutting K-12?
"The important thing to remember is that we get to vote on this. We get to craft our own budget."