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The flight of the lame ducks

Dozens will flock to Capitol; what mischief awaits?

Published: Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

When it comes to delays of game, Illinois powerbrokers make the St. Louis Rams look like lightweights.

Sure, the Rams blew chance after chance to win Sunday’s game against the 49ers – including allowing a delay of game penalty to wipe out a game-winning field goal and force things into overtime.

But that was just one day.

Springfield’s elite have been doing it now for decades.

Note we didn’t say Democrats here, although that blame will be coming in a few more paragraphs. No, despite a heavily Democratic-influenced Legislature, the Republicans could push the issue but have done little more than shout what not to do.

The result has been for Illinois to fall deeper in the chasm of a $90 billion pension debt with no acceptable ideas on how to climb out.

Acceptable is the key word, because there are options. Some are bad, some are worse.

One that is being pushed by House kingpin Mike Madigan is to shift most of the cost of teacher pensions from the state to the local school districts. The move is widely seen as deadly to smaller and poorer downstate schools.

Another idea has been to cut some of the pensions – just slice promised benefits with little apology. But that talk has raised the ire of the unions and seemed to have little traction.

For one thing, these are powerful unions whose cages are being rattled. For another, these unions have powerful political friends in high places who get thousands in donations from them. For another, pity the lawmaker who tries to take them on.

But wait.

It looks as though Gov. Pat Quinn could be putting the same Lame Duck Surprise on the menu as he did when he pushed through an 11th-hour massive income tax hike. Through the strength of legislators who had been already voted out of office and had just weeks left, Quinn was able to power through a plan that otherwise surely would have suffered a painful death.

About three dozen of the state’s 177 lawmakers either lost their re-election bids or are retiring before the new session starts Jan. 9. That means the largest lame duck gathering in a decade will be in the state Capitol when the Legislature is in session again starting Nov. 27.

Could it work again? Could Lawmaker A, who was voted out of office Nov. 6, vote in favor of whatever the governor hopes to push through (and, for some, getting a cushy state job after leaving office)?

Sure it could. Now more than ever.

 

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