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Column

STATEHOUSE INSIDER: Money grab not legislature's finest moment

New fiscal year again begins with a budget in place

Doug Finke
Doug Finke

Pretty much everyone has probably had to deal with a situation in which a distant family member did something so embarrassing it made you want to cringe.

Now you may have a sense of how some state lawmakers feel right now.

It’s because two of their former colleagues – Mike Noland, a Democratic state senator from Elgin and James Clayborne, a Democratic state senator from Belleville – won an initial victory in their fight for back pay when they were lawmakers.

This stems from all those years when the state was on the financial ropes, and during at least some of that time, the national economy was, too. During those years, lawmakers did the politically prudent thing by voting not to take automatic cost-of-living increases to which they are entitled. When they did that, they often issued statements to constituents about how they were sacrificing just as they knew their voters had to sacrifice. Noland and Clayborne were among them.

However, both men have left office and no longer need to face voters. They filed a lawsuit contending it was an unconstitutional diminishment of salary during their terms to not have the COLAs go through. A judge agreed and the back money may have to be paid. The ruling will be appealed.

Yes, the state Constitution may be on their side. But sometimes the tone deafness of some people just makes you want to cringe.

A friend for Squeezy

The timing couldn’t be better.

An alligator took up residence in the Humboldt Park lagoon in Chicago right before a couple of task forces appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker are expected to make recommendations for dealing with the state’s pension costs.

Finally, some reptilian companionship for Squeezy the Pension Python. All the Pritzker administration has to do is come up with a name, clever or not – like Chompy the Annuity Alligator – tie it to a slogan – like “It Takes a Bite Out of the Budget” – and voila, you’ve got a symbol for the upcoming pension reform debate.

Even better, people actually like the alligator, which is more than you could ever say for Squeezy.

In case you missed it elsewhere, there was a contest to name the Chicago alligator.

The winner was Chance the Snapper, which is a pretty good choice. (Named, of course, for Chicago performer Chance the Rapper, in case you don’t get it). Other finalists were Frank Lloyd Bite, Ruth Gator Ginsberg and Croc Obama.

Wonder if that Obama entry was supported by Republicans.

(Editor’s note: Chance, which had managed to elude authorities for a week, was caught early Tuesday morning near the lagoon).

Third consecutive year with a budget

July 1 came and went in Illinois and no one took particular notice, outside of the fact it meant that Independence Day was coming up.

Not many people would necessarily remember that July 1 was also the start of the state’s fiscal year, especially since there were no reminders in the form of headlines screaming that the state was starting a fiscal year with no budget. For the third year in a row, a budget was passed on time and signed, ready to go by July 1.

It’s worth a mention only because Moody’s recently put out a report naming seven states that didn’t have full-year budgets in place by July 1 which was the start of their fiscal years. That states are Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon and Rhode Island. Moody’s said the delays stemmed generally from “ongoing debates on how to fund environmental and social policy priorities, notably education.”

In fairness, Moody’s did say that in several cases budgets were approved by lawmakers, but not yet signed. So it’s not like all of those states were planning to go more than 2 years without a budget, like some we know. But it’s nice to gloat – however briefly – that we got the job done and not everyone else did.

Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr.

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