Doug Finke: Effect of Madigan's proposal still up in the air

Doug Finke

So are more than 3,000 state workers and members of various boards really facing being fired as House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, proposes? Not sure there's a definitive answer to that right now.

Madigan's cooked up this bill that would ax those people holding basically patronage jobs in state government that they got from either former governors George Ryan or Rod Blagojevich. It's fair to say that at least some of those people are pretty well despised and that lawmakers and others would love to show them the door.

Gov. Pat Quinn said early on he would "fumigate" state government, at least of Blagojevich holdovers. It's been a painfully slow process, leaving people like Madigan impatient for quicker results. Hence the bill to force the issue. Once it becomes law, people can continue working only for 60 days. After that, they are gone unless Quinn allows them to stay, essentially hiring them back.

Madigan sounds serious about the bill. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said he's in favor of it. Even Quinn said it isn't a bad idea.

Yet, there are rank-and-file lawmakers who think it won't become law. They believe that Madigan already accomplished all he needed by saying the bill is out there ready to go if Quinn doesn't start cleaning house at a faster pace. Quinn could pick up the pace, target officials particularly detested by Madigan and save himself the nightmare of trying to fill 3,000 jobs basically all at once.

Lawmakers are worried about disruption of state operations if the bill goes through. Some also think Madigan is treating Quinn unfairly by forcing him to concentrate on filling thousands of jobs at the same time that he's got to worry about balancing the budget, passing ethics reforms and a bunch of other things.

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Say whatever else you want about Quinn, but he isn't afraid to face hostile crowds.

The Illinois Education Association held its annual rally at the state Capitol last week with an estimated crowd of 3,000 people. Quinn asked the IEA for a chance to speak. The union agreed, with a stipulation that Quinn answer a few questions at the event.

Quinn showed up at the rally. Remember, this is the guy who said there have to be changes to state pensions (including those for teachers) that involve paying more for the benefits and lowering the benefits for new hires.

"I know how Daniel felt in the lion's den," Quinn said. "I'm not going to tell you maybe what you want to hear, but I'm going to tell you what you need to know."

Unfortunately, a good part of the crowd (at least a loud part of the crowd) behaved in a boorish way they would not tolerate from their students. They booed and heckled Quinn to the point he stopped and asked his fellow adults if maybe the polite thing might be to let him finish his statements, even if they didn't agree. That seemed to calm them down enough that he was able to continue, telling them that he was backing off of his proposal to make teachers and others pay 2 percent more of their salaries toward their pensions. The crowd liked that, but returned to the catcalls when Quinn said benefits for future teachers have to be reduced.

By the way, a special shout-out to the person (presumably a teacher) who could be heard shouting to Quinn "You've got your retirement." Yes, he does and so do you, dummy. Retirement benefits won't change for people already in the pension systems. No one has suggested that. Anyone who says otherwise is just wrong.

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Quinn held a little media availability outside of his office Wednesday to acknowledge completing an agreement with the city of Springfield's public utility for the state to purchase power generated by windmills. Both state and city officials attended, including Springfield's Ward 5 alderman Sam Cahnman.

Quinn allowed everyone to speak and introduced the speakers, including Cahnman.

"Why don't you come forward and say a few words," Quinn said as he introduced Cahnman. "Underline few."

At the same event, Quinn praised Department of Central Management Services Director James Sledge for being brief.

"He understands the importance of succinctitude," Quinn said, coining a new word.

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 ordoug.finke@sj-r.com.