Illinois’ Do-Nothing Legislature Does Even Less

Published October 24, 2013

Illinois lawmakers are scared.

Voters go to the polls in March, and lawmakers’ anxiety over their respective fates has effectively frozen the Legislature.

Lawmakers left the fall veto session after two days, and the House and Senate canceled a Thursday session because they had nothing to do. They haven’t moved on reforming Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation $130 billion pension debt or decided whether to legalize gay marriage.

Afraid of Primary Election Backlash

“The fact that you have a primary in March means lawmakers who are concerned about who their opponent might be are going to not want to take on controversial issues,” University of Illinois at Springfield political science professor Kent Redfield said.

Redfield, who has watched the Illinois General Assembly for decades, said election year paralysis is typical.

Still, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

‘Pension Crisis to Choke a Horse’

“I worked for two governors, Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar, that moved things along even in an election year,” said Sen Kirk Dillard (R-Hindsdale), a candidate for governor. “We have a pension crisis to choke a horse. We have billions of dollars of unpaid bills, and for the Democrats to sit here and do nothing is absolutely unconscionable.”

Democrats have controlled both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s mansion since 2002.

That long tenure gives Democrats more of an incentive to get things done, Redfield said. Or should, anyway.

“If you don’t get anything done (this fall), you’re certainly not going to get it done before the primary,” Redfield said. “But it may make some political sense to (vote) after the primary.”

‘Expect a Lighter Work Load’

Democrat state Rep. Mike Zalewski of Chicago said most voters would call it “inside baseball,” but, he said, elections can lead to inaction.

“Next year you’ll probably see a lighter work load … with the idea that people will be less likely to want to vote for something controversial,” Zalewski said.

Redfield thinks lawmakers will try to agree on pension reform between the March primary and the end of the spring session in May. Redfield expects lawmakers to legalize gay marriage in the spring.

Lawmakers are due back for three more days of veto session, at a cost of more than $43,000 per day, Nov. 5-7.