Illinois (Finally) Pushes Pension Reform — But Only Because the House Speaker Wants to Get His Daughter Elected

After years of inaction on public pension reform, leading to $100 billion in debt ($200 billion by some estimates) for Illinois families and a state credit rating that has now been completely destroyed, Sith Lord, er, State House Speaker Michael Madigan is finally pushing for a comprehensive pension reform bill that will reduce automatic annual raises for retirees, requires recipients to pay more for their own benefits, raises the retirement age, and forces the state to make its required annual pension payments.

While even the Chicago Tribune editorial board, usually critical of Madigan’s shenanigans, is now praising Madigan’s “bold leadership in taking charge to fix this pension mess,” the question I’m asking is, “Why now?”

Let’s face it, public unions own most lawmakers in the Democratic Party (donating to and campaigning for them), so they have been the biggest reason for the Democratic majorities in both chambers of the state legislature to sit on their hands on this all these years. Understandably so, as Gov. Pat Quinn has been hounded by unions for the last year for even entertaining these very proposals that Madigan is now pushing. They even chased Quinn all the way to Charlotte to harass him at the Democratic National Convention.

As expected, the unions are up in arms over this new 271-page bill too. We Are One Illinois – a coalition of public sector unions which include the AFL-CIO, IEA and AFSCME – went so far as to call this bill an “illegal approach to slashing hard-earned life savings protected by the Illinois Constitution.” Suffice it to say they’ll be challenging this all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court if it even becomes law. Public sector unions have deep pockets and are lawyered up the wazoo, as we’re constantly reminded of in Wisconsin where they’re still trying to overturn Gov. Scott Walker’s reforms.

Which then begs the question: “Why now?” Why would Madigan expend all this political capital and risk the ire of a core constituency of the Democratic Party? It’s hard to believe that a 40+ year political veteran would suddenly wake up one morning and possess the noble principles and leadership skills that the Tribune now gives him credit for.

Then it dawned on me: his daughter – Attorney General Lisa Madigan – is gearing up for a gubernatorial run in 2014.

Bingo.

If this bill becomes law today, Madigan clears the path for his daughter’s gubernatorial campaign just long enough to get through the 2014 election but before it gets in front of the state Supreme Court.

Boom, he just saved Lisa countless hours of public pension reform ideas on the campaign trail and grilling questions during the debates. She can consider this potential law as “problem solved,” and if she’s pressed on the legality of it, she can simply dismiss all responsibility with, “That’s up for the Illinois Supreme Court to decide.”

It’s a shrewd move, but as Dr. Milton Friedman once said, “People think the way they solve things is by electing the right people. It’s nice to elect the right people, but that isn’t the way you solve things. The way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things.”

And that’s how we finally arrive to public pension reform in the Prairie State.