Getting an "A" for effort, Gov. Pat Quinn is trying once again to win legislative action on the public pension issue.
Gov. Pat Quinn promised a post-election public relations campaign to pressure lawmakers into addressing the state's pension woes, and this past week he delivered — a cartoon?
Quinn introduced "Squeezy the Pension Python" to illustrate the reality that skyrocketing public pension costs are choking the life out of state government.
Predictably, Quinn's metaphor was met by ridicule. State Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat, spoke for many when he called the Squeezy campaign "juvenile."
"(Fixing state pensions) can't be done with slogans, and it certainly can't be done with cartoon characters. It's going to take some hard work," said Franks.
He also took a shot at Quinn, stating "you can't follow someone who doesn't lead."
Franks is correct that Squeezy is juvenile. But it just may be that Quinn is taking the measure of his target audience in the Illinois House and Senate and trying to frame the problem in terms they can understand.
After all, our legislators have been nothing but consistent in their childish refusal to face fiscal reality. They've been ostrich-like in their determination to ignore a problem that not only is inescapable, but also growing steadily worse.
For months, news reports have noted that the state's five public pensions are underfunded by roughly $85 billion. Well, while our legislators both dithered and ran for re-election, the underfunding amount now is at $96 billion and growing.
If those numbers didn't induce legislative action, what's the harm in using Squeezy to make the same point?
Juvenile? Of course. Silly? No doubt. But sometimes you have to put the hay down where the goats can get it, and our legislators stand to play the starring role as goats if the state's ability to properly fund basic programs continues to disintegrate.
Illinois is way past the problem stage on the pension issue. It's time for full-scale panic — and serious, bipartisan action.
Gov. Quinn has taken a lot of shots in this space for his policy positions, but not on the pension issue. He has been nothing but resolute in trying to focus public and legislative attention on this dire problem.
When he pressed legislators and all the interested parties last spring to come together and hammer out a solution, Quinn was ignored. When Quinn called a special legislation session in the summer to address the issue, members of the House and Senate met, did nothing, declared that was good enough for government work and went home.
Legislators clearly don't have the stomach to do what's necessary because they fear the public's response. That's why they resolutely ignored the issue until after the election, and that's why they plan to wait until January for the lame-duck session to see what will emerge.
Using the votes of retiring or defeated legislators to pass controversial legislation is a shameful Illinois tradition. Two years ago, the House and Senate passed mammoth increases in the state's personal and corporate income taxes in the lame-duck session, purportedly to raise money to pay off billions in state debt and keep the ship of state afloat.
As this lame-duck session approaches, things are no better and arguably worse, and it's way past time to end the blame-laying and face up to the issue.
There's no question this problem was caused by the failures of past legislators and governors to fulfill their obligations to properly fund state pensions. They used money that should have gone for pensions on other programs. Sometimes they spent money the state didn't have on new programs.
In doing so, they created a nightmarish fiscal situation that must be addressed if our public pension programs are to avoid collapse. Sure, Squeezy is silly, but he makes an undeniable point that we ignore at our peril.