Written by Joe Boyle
Term limits and redistricting were on the minds of constituents who attended one in a series of casual roundtable discussions with state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th).
A couple of residents voiced their approval of term limits during the discussion held Sept. 14 at the Green Hills Library. One man referred to himself as an Independent but backed the efforts of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who he said has been prevented from making changes by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) and Democrats in general. He called for term limits and the approval of Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda.”
“People like the idea of term limits,” said Cunningham. “They are very popular.”
But Cunningham said that term limits exist now and can be exercised by voting. The senator said that in the last five years, 71 members in the House are now longer in office.
“My point being is that you already have term limits and it’s called elections,” said Cunningham.
The man calling for term limits was unconvinced. “I say we need to get rid of more of them.”
Another man who attended the meeting had another take on the situation, blaming the current legislative maps that he said favors the Democrats.
“You don’t have contested elections and it pushes parties to the extreme,” he said. The man pointed to the fact that the majority of Democrats are uncontested in the Nov. 8 election due to maps drawn up that favors their party. He pointed to the fact that both Burke and Cunningham are unopposed in the upcoming election.
A variety of business, political and community leaders supported an Illinois Fair Map Amendment referendum be put on the November ballot. However, the Illinois Supreme Court rejected the referendum because while changes can be made to the Legislative Branch through a vote, it cannot be done for the Executive Branch.
The referendum calls for changes in the Executive Branch and the court ruled that is unconstitutional. The two men calling for sweeping changes on term limits and redistricting were upset about the court ruling. One of the men said the referendum was opposed because the judges are Democrats.
Burke and Cunningham discussed Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda that is divided into about 14 demands. One of those demands is to make Illinois a “Right to Work” state that the local legislators said would actually minimize job opportunities and salaries. The same objections have been raised over the governor’s demands for changes in worker’s compensation, collective bargaining and union authority.
The legislators said that a main stumbling block in why a 2015 budget was delayed for a year is that the governor wants all these points to be applied in a new budget. Democratic legislators have resisted because they believe it would actually reduce jobs and salaries.
“The governor could get some things passed if we would not continue to link other ideas, like collective bargaining,” said Burke.
Burke said that party leaders broke off into small groups this spring in an effort to come up with an agreement. Senate Majority Leader John Cullerton (D-6th) said in an off-hand way to agree on a six-month budget that Rauner initially rejected, said Burke. However, as talks went down to the wire, Rauner essentially adopted Cullerton’s idea and made it his own. A six-month budget agreement was passed that allows legislators up for election time to work out a deal in January.
“That is not the way to do a budget,” said Burke. “It sets up a showdown in January.”
Cunningham said the six-month budget includes the five percent tax increase. Cunningham pointed out that there are 118 members in the House with 71 Democrats and 47 Republicans. Of the 59 members of the Senate, 39 are Democrats and 20 are Republicans.
One man said that Madigan has too much power and is concerned about making money for himself. He views the House Speaker as the main obstacle in getting a budget agreement, not Rauner.
“Some people oppose (Madigan) because he believes in strong collective bargaining rights,” said Cunningham. “Another reason they don’t like him is because he has been the Speaker for so long.”
Both legislators have said that the pension crisis had been brewing for years.
“You have some legislators who don’t want to raise taxes, and you have others who don’t want to get rid of programs,” said Cunningham. Unfortunately, when other financial concerns have risen, the Legislature has agreed to delay pension payments for a year to take on other projects. The problem is those payments continued to be delayed, the legislators said.
Burke said that even the six-month stopgap budget has not made up for the year-long budget stalemate. A backlog of bills is piling up and many private companies have gone out of business, she said.
Both Burke and Cunningham commented on a variety of issues, including the rising crime rate in Chicago. Cunningham told the audience that although he is a supporter of President Obama, he believes the federal government could have done more for Chicago.
“The (federal government) has done very little to stop funneling guns into the city,” said Cunningham.