House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, anticipates a quiet legislative session next week with little in the way of substantive bills to be considered.
But state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, expects fireworks if a special appropriation comes before the House to pay unionized state workers back pay for raises promised by Gov. Pat Quinn, for which the Illinois General Assembly has denied funding.
“A judge has ordered the state to pay the money,” Mautino said. “He says it doesn’t matter if we don’t have the money – we still have to pay. And it’s costing us. We are having to pay 7 percent interest on that money until it is paid to the workers. I expect that will be an issue we have to deal with.”
Mautino said the total amount of back pay in question is $112 million.
“That is a pretty substantial amount of money and it has to be dealt with,” he said.
Lawmakers expect little movement on pensions. Illinois’ pension conference committee has been meeting for several months to discuss several pension reform proposals. But it has not reached a consensus.
“My experience is that veto sessions tend to be over-hyped. People go into them expecting far more than actually happens. I’m not expecting a pension vote during veto session,” Durkin said.
State Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, serves on the pension conference committee. He said a pension vote is possible during the second week of veto session, but added it is not likely.
State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, said he there is a 50/50 chance a pension bill will come up for a vote during the two weeks of veto session.
“The real question we should be asking is not whether it will come up for a vote, but whether it worth voting for,” he said. “And to be honest, I don’t anticipate a bill worth voting for. Illinois has to get out of the pension business. And that is not going to happen until employees are switched over to 401(k)-type plans.”
Kudos to Kraft
Personally, I don’t think Illinois has any business operating a baseball stadium.
Unfortunately, Illinois helped set the trend 25 years ago for professional sports teams to receive government handouts when the Illinois General Assembly agreed to build a ballpark for the White Sox.
But now that taxpayers are saddled with a ballpark, we ought to take a look at how well it is run.
As you know, there was quite a bit of controversy when Gov. Pat Quinn pushed to appoint one of his staffers, Kelly Kraft, to manage the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, or ISFA, which operates U.S. Cellular Field.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a winning move Kraft has made. She ended the longtime practice of fêting politicians at the taxpayers’ expense in a private suite at U.S. Cellular field.
Back in 1988, when I first started covering the Illinois General Assembly, then-Gov. James R. Thompson and Speaker of the House Mike Madigan were instrumental in creating a sweetheart deal with the White Sox, who were threatening to move to Tampa, Fla.
The ISFA was created to build and operate a ballpark for the team. For most of time the Sox have used the stadium, they have not paid rent. During years when rent has been paid, it is far below market value.
Taxpayers subsidize the operation of the ballpark.
Given this scenario, I got to wondering if elected officials were being wined and dined by the authority. Lobbying and state subsidies seem to go hand in hand.
So I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for guest lists to the authority’s suite. The list of everyone who has been an ISFA guest in the suite for the last five years can be found here: http://ilnews.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Illinois-Policy-9-23-13-response-pt-2b.pdf.
As you can see, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Gov. Pat Quinn, and a host of state lawmakers and Chicago aldermen have taken advantage of the free perk. And unlike private lobbyists, a governmental entity such as the ISFA does not have to disclose the gifts it makes to lawmakers.
That’s not the way it ought to be.
Governmental entities that are lobbying for taxpayer support ought to face the same disclosure rules as everyone else.
After reviewing the list of guests, I contacted Kraft about ISFA policy on interacting with legislators. She told me that since she took over the helm of the authority 10 months ago, it stopped hosting political bigwigs with free game-day tickets and other perks.
Instead, the facility’s suite is donated to charities for fundraising purposes.