by John Tillman
The spectacle of government union members booing the best friend they ever had off the stage Wednesday at the Illinois State Fair made for entertaining video. Gov. Quinn may not have liked the boos, but he certainly understands his starring role in this fiction of a drama.
Here’s the truth: the pension proposals under consideration in Springfield are fake reforms designed to pop the balloon of political pressure weighing on Gov. Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, and the Democratically-controlled legislature. If any variation of the bills in motion in Springfield pass during the special session on Friday, Illinois will remain the state with the worst-funded government pensions in the country, and pension costs will continue to crowd out health care services for the poor and disadvantaged, as well as and education spending.
Make no mistake: the unions will paint any attempt at reform – even fake reform – as too extreme. Gov. Quinn will portray himself in the media as an aggressive, reforming savior risking his political career for the sake of Illinois taxpayers. But if this fiction is played out, the legislature will pass tepid reforms, leaving in place the broken system that continues to bankrupt the state.
Another fiction is that the Republicans must provide votes for whatever reform passes. This, too, is a lie. Democrats have large majorities, and through some legislative maneuvers they have positioned a bill that can pass on Friday with a simple majority. Media who claim that Republicans must provide at least 30 votes to get to the 60 needed for passage in the House either are ill-informed or have taken a cameo role on the stage.
This is a political battle with three teams fighting for the money earned by taxpayers.
On the first team are the much-beleaguered Illinois taxpayers, already under pressure from the $7 billion tax hike of 2011 and the 8th highest per capita tax burden in the country.
On the second team are citizens and their advocates who benefit from core government services. We can debate what the proper scale of these services should be, but wherever that line comes down the truth is that there are millions of people now dependent on Illinois (and the federal government) for their health care, education, housing and even food.
Many of these programs are being cut in Illinois because team No. 3 is still winning politically, and that team is the government unions. The government employee unions are fighting for the same dollars as those dependent on government. And the message is clear: Drop dead, we want what is ours.
The booing yesterday in Springfield is but one battle in the legislative fight to protect the bankrupt status quo. Government unions are trying to minimize their losses from any bill that passes.
On another front, government unions are working behind the scenes to prepare Illinois voters to pass another massive tax hike in 2014. This tax hike will be packaged as a constitutional amendment to institute a progressive income tax in Illinois. This means that as your income rises, the increases will largely go to pay for government worker retirements instead of your own.
But there is some good news on two fronts. First, Illinois politicians’ top priority is self-preservation. They are now in the midst of asking themselves this question: “Is my safest course to cave into the union boos and do the fake reform they want, or is my safest course to hold off and do real reform after the November election that might actually fix this problem?” This is where we separate real heroes from the fakers.
While it is easy to vilify rank-and-file union members, we should not do that. As this unfolds, keep in mind that rank-and-file union members are being victimized by their union bosses, who misinform them year after year on how the math really works.
What is really interesting is what happens when union members are free to choose. Tens of thousands of union members have chosen to be free in Wisconsin. In turns out that many rank and file union members would prefer to control their own lives rather than have the union bosses having all the control. This reality is beginning to set in among many union members in Illinois. It is also setting in among well-paid union bosses who feel threatened that their own members may finally discover the sham.
In the end, this is a math problem. It is not about union bargaining power or targeting union workers. It is about the simple fact that union compensation is where the money is and it is growing faster than revenues to government. The taxpayers are tapped out. Someone has to give and it’s the unions’ turn now.
The booing that took place in Springfield Wednesday was all part of the fictional drama long planned and well played. The sad part is that union rank-and-file may not even know this. But it is up to us, to the media and to the taxpayers of Illinois to understand what the truth is – and the truth is that there were and are no reformers on the state fair stage. Real heroes emerge when real reform is passed that puts Illinois back on the path to prosperity.