In the face of real problems, elected officials' top priority is looking out for No. 1.
Illinois' public pension woes are attracting center stage in Springfield as Gov. Pat Quinn and members of the Illinois House and Senate struggle to dig themselves out of a nearly $100 billion financial hole.
If there's a bigger or more important issue facing taxpayers, it's hard to know what it would be. That's why News-Gazette columnist Tom Kacich's reference to a controversial pension vote last week jumped off the page.
"Most downstaters — Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals — avoided the pension bill like it was a goodie for Chicago. Politically that makes sense because downstate is where the bulk of the state's prisons and universities, with their big numbers of retirees and employees, are located," he wrote.
There's no disputing Kacich's analysis of the situation. Our area legislators are desperate to avoid being linked to any vote that will anger public pension system members or retirees and jeopardize their prospects for re-election.
That's why they do a lot of talking about Illinois' pension woes but carefully stake out positions in opposition to proposed solutions.
But here's the problem. They didn't run for re-election on the platform of ducking tough issues so as to strengthen their prospects for re-election. They — no matter what their party or their philosophy — ran for office promising they would provide leadership on the issues that confront the state.
The Illinois House last week voted 65-60 to limit cost-of-living increases on the strength of what's called a "structured roll call," a common trick legislative leaders like to play on the voters. Among those voting no were area state Reps. Adam Brown and Chad Hays, both Republicans, and Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, a Democrat.
Leaders of both parties — Speaker Michael Madigan and Republican Leader Tom Cross — provide enough yes votes from some members of their caucuses so legislators who may feel threatened can vote no.
Under this arrangement, everybody wins. The proposal passes while those who voted no can go back home and tell people they fought the good fight but it just didn't work out. The reality, however, is that they're all in it together.
It will be no better in the Senate, where Sens. Chapin Rose, Dale Righter and Michael Frerichs are apt to be similarly missing in action.
People can and do write this off as politics as usual, and it is. But it was politics as usual that got Illinois into this predicament — elected officials acting in their self-interest rather than the public interest.
It has to stop sometime.