‘No Loitering’ zone fix for Springfield gridlock
by RUSS STEWART
The way to fix gridlock in Springfield is to post a "No Loitering" sign in the state capitol. That would keep 175 of Illinois’ 177 state senators and state representatives out of mischief.
After all, they’re superfluous and irrelevant. They’re seen but not heard. They make no decisions. Every vote is preordained. All determinations are decreed by Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, with Governor Bruce Rauner playing a bit part.
When the General Assembly is in session, usually for two or three days per week in January, February and March and four or five days per week during April and May, all the legislators need do is show up and loiter.
There’s nothing constructive to do, except spend their $111 per diem allowance, collect their annual salary of $67,836, schmooze with lobbyists, return their cell phone messages, find some work for their three-person Springfield staff, and wait to be told how to vote (if a Democrat) or to be totally ignored (if a Republican). Illinois’ salaries are the fifth highest in the nation. New Hampshire pays $200 per year.
About the toughest daily decisions a legislator has to make, it is said only somewhat facetiously, is when to have the first martini and which lobbyist will buy it.
"That’s not true," state Representative John D’Amico (D-15) said. "There are constant committee meetings." D’Amico is the chairman of the Transportation: Vehicles and Safety Committee. Legislators are paid an extra $6,500 if they are a committee chairman or the ranking Republican on the committee. In the Senate there are 20 committees, commissions or task forces, but there are 60 in the House. That costs taxpayers $1,040,000. Of the 177 legislators , up to 147 get that $6,500 stipend, and every committee has a staff and legal counsel, so the output of new laws and regulations, not to mention hair-brained ideas, is substantial. However, every bill voted out of committee goes to the Rules Committee, controlled by the "Two Tops," and few ever get to the floor.
The Democrats have a 39-20 Senate super majority and a 71-47 House super majority. That is critically important, inasmuch as the vote of 60 percent of the members can override the governor’s veto and pass bills in post-June sessions. Madigan has one more than he needs, and Cullerton has four. Maintaining their super majorities is an obsession, for two reasons:
First, it increases their cash haul from special interests and lobbyists. In the past there were the "Four Tops," meaning the party leaders in both chambers. Minority votes were needed, so the cash had to be spread around. Not now. Madigan and Cullerton outraise the Republicans 2-1, with Madigan, who also is the state Democratic Party chairman, taking in $5 million to $8 million per election cycle and Cullerton taking in $4 million to $5 million. They can readily pump $500,000 or more into any targeted district, protecting their majorities.
Second, all that campaign money keeps the incumbent Democrats in line and discourages Republican competition. The "Two Tops" rule through the caucus system. Before a floor vote, the members meet privately, are told how to vote, and then vote to ratify that edict. If a majority support Madigan and Cullerton, all members are bound to vote that way. Bills on the floor are always a done deal.
At least they were until Rauner won the governorship. Last June Rauner vetoed the 2016 fiscal year budget, excepting funding for elementary and secondary education. The "Two Tops" can override that veto and raise taxes, but that would put their super majorities at risk. They want Rauner to sign on to a tax hike and deliver some Republican votes. He won’t. For the "Two Tops," clinging to power trumps using and risking their power. By April there will be no more money to pay any state bills, state Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20) said.
There is a curious side effect. Members, especially Republicans, are bailing out at a remarkable rate. "There’s been an 80 percent turnover (in the House) since the mid-2000s," McAuliffe said. In short, Springfield is a time waster: Drive 200 miles from Chicago, show up at 2 p.m. Tuesday, hang out and gossip for two days, leave at 2 p.m. Thursday, with nothing accomplished.
For 2016, Rauner’s political action committee is prepared to spend heavily to shave Madigan’s super majority. Here’s a look at some races:
20th District: Will 2016 be the year that Madigan pumps in $500,000 to beat McAuliffe? Not a chance. McAuliffe is the only House Republican from Chicago, and he is going on 20 years, making him the 12th most senior Republican. He was elected in 1996 to succeed his late father, who occupied the seat for 24 years, and he generally has a pro-labor record. Madigan made an effort to win the seat in 1996 and 2002, but he has given McAuliffe a free pass since 2004. In the 2011 remap Madigan made McAuliffe’s district even safer, adding a large chunk of north Park Ridge. The district now contains only the 41st Ward in Chicago, where McAuliffe is the Republican committeeman, plus Park Ridge, Rosemont, Harwood Heights, Norridge and suburbs south of O’Hare Airport. As of Jan. 1, McAuliffe had $36,073 in campaign funds on hand.
In 2014 McAuliffe was opposed by Mo Khan, a young law student. Madigan gave him no money, and McAuliffe won 18,879-11,354, with 62.4 percent of the vote.
In something of a surprise, anti-airport noise activist Merry Marwig filed as a Democrat to oppose McAuliffe. Without Madigan’s money, she will go nowhere. According to sources, she is not Madigan’s candidate.
To understand Far Northwest Side/41st Ward politics, one must be either a psychologist or just psycho. There are wheels within deals. There are perpetually changing alliances, and there are nonaggression pacts. State Senator John Mulroe (D-10), of the 41st Ward, whose district includes the House districts of McAuliffe and Rob Martwick (D-19), is unopposed. Mulroe is a Cullerton ally, he and had $445,351 on hand as of Jan. 1. Martwick also is unopposed. McAuliffe’s task was to insure that no Republican was found or slated, and he expected reciprocity.
However, the 2015 aldermanic race created complications, as Mulroe’s ally, Mary O’Connor was ousted by Anthony Napolitano. One of Napolitano’s chief strategists was former alderman Brian Doherty, a McAuliffe ally. With O’Connor gone, Mulroe’s organizational base has collapsed. Only his money deters opposition. Doherty made sure that the Napolitano group didn’t run anyone against McAuliffe.
It should be noted that McAuliffe promised not to draw a state paycheck until the budget is passed. That has cost him about $40,000 since June, but he won’t be in any soup line. His wife is a well connected Springfield lobbyist.
15th District: Call him "24/7 Johnny." D’Amico is a multi-tasker par excellence. He earns $74,336 in his part-time job as a legislator, he is a committee chairman, and when not in Springfield, he is a district foreman for the Chicago Department of Water Management, a job budgeted at $103,000 per year. His job entails driving around the North Side in a city vehicle to monitor sewer and water main repairs.
D’Amico boasted that he "spent 7 hours a day knocking on doors" and that his reception has been "fantastic." He said two Madigan staffers, paid by the state party, "push" him to campaign daily. They occupy space in an office on Lawrence Avenue, along with his aunt, Alderman Marge Laurino (39th), his legislative office and the ward Democratic organization. Expect Madigan to dump $300,000-plus into the district.
"That is absolutely outrageous," fumed Jac Charlier, D’Amico’s opponent in the March 15 Democratic primary. "He is getting paid with public dollars to campaign."
Charlier’s theme is that "52 years of the ‘Laurino-D’Amico machine’ are enough," a reference to the fact that Tony Laurino, Marge Laurino’s dad, became the alderman and committeeman in 1965 and she became the alderman in 1994, after her father’s indictment and resignation. Marge Laurino’s brother Bill was a state representative for 26 years. "They are a public disgrace," said Charlier, a cofounder of FAIR, the anti-O’Hare jet noise group.
"That family has cost taxpayers millions of dollars in salaries, pensions, investigation fees, legal expenses for indictments and trials, and incarceration costs," Charlier said, noting that D’Amico’s father, mother, aunt and grandmother were convicted in a ghost payroll scheme masterminded by his grandfather Tony Laurino, involving the City Council Traffic Committee, of which Laurino was chairman. "It’s disgusting," Charlie said.
No, countered D’Amico, it’s negativity. "I should be judged by my performance," he said. D’Amico said he sponsored a driving-and-texting ban, a nine-step program for teen driving permits, and a graduated driver’s license program for teens. He said that he got an award from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers for his work. As for the state’s fiscal mess, D’Amico had four words: blame it on Rauner. "Past Republican governors (meaning Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and George Ryan) worked with the legislature to pass the budget. Rauner won’t." What D’Amico is saying is that those Republicans consented to tax hikes, which Rauner won’t.
Charlier places the blame on D’Amico. "Illinois is $135 billion in the hole, and by 2019 annual state and pension debt will be $22 billion, three-quarters of the budget," Charlier said. He said that D’Amico backed pension holidays, more pension obligation bonds and nonfunding of pensions.
I asked Charlier when he was going to stop being Mr. Nice Guy. He laughed.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.