Friday, May 31, 2013

Illi-noyed: State Government A Bad Joke

I’m not sure if this qualifies as “breaking news”, but the state of politics in this country is, in a word, ludicrous.

Whether you want to assign that blame to two political parties that seem to grow more extreme in their partisanship, while simultaneously entrenching themselves in positions that do not lend themselves to compromise (which, last time I read a book about governance, is a prerequisite of getting things done), or on the ineptitude of the politicians that we send to Springfield and Washington to do the people’s work, the fact of the matter is that anyone within spitting distance of a newspaper knows that our current state of affairs is a broken mess of nonsensical garbage.

Run-on sentences aside, the reason that I’m writing this blog post telling you things you already need to know is because there’s something else that the citizens of this state specifically need to know. A cursory look at the blog “Ward Room”, NBC Chicago’s political blog, shows what I mean in graphic detail.

The first three stories on the website are as follows:

“Quinn to Call Lawmakers Together on Pensions”

“Gay Marriage Bill Dead in This Session”

“Gambling Expansion Won’t Get Vote”

The first story has a hopeful headline, but clicking on the link reveals the dirty truth. The state is currently experiencing an issue in funding pensions for retiring state workers, so much so that there is $17 million A DAY being added to the shortfall. Needless to say, it was an issue that needed resolution before fall, but Senate President Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan couldn’t agree on legislation that the Senate had passed, and Pat Quinn is now in the position of having to try to cobble something together in the fall session.

The second headline is obviously the most blatantly bad, with House Democrats refusing to go along with a Senate bill that would have made Illinois the 13th state in the country to legalize gay marriage. Whether you are for or against the measure (I obviously am for it, but that’s not the point of this blog post and so we’ll save that for the fall session as well), the fact that the bill couldn’t even get a vote is a stark reminder of the idiocy that we are dealing with from our political figures.

The third headline is one that is easy to put back on the shelf and ignore, but at a time that various municipalities, including Chicago, are trying to get casino licenses to generate revenue and jobs (albeit not good paying ones after the construction is complete), it seems stupid that a state with budget issues would want to kick that particular can down the road.

Aside from those initial headlines, two more on the front page grabbed my attention. The first was that a compromise was reached on concealed carry laws in the state of Illinois. Obviously, compromise should be something celebrated because it means that officials are actually doing their jobs, but in the face of all the other issues that are being left undecided, notably issues of civil rights (marriage) and economic woes (pensions, casinos), was a concealed weapons bill really something that should have been on the front of the docket?

In addition, and this is the big one, the headline “House Gives Boost to Peotone Airport, McCormick Place Projects” caught my attention. For those of you who don’t know, the state has been trying to build a third Chicagoland airport, which would be located near Peotone, for many years now. They are also discussing building a link-up highway between Interstate 57 in Illinois and Interstate 65 in Indiana as part of that project, but that wasn’t part of the final bill that allowed IDOT to enter into a private-public partnership to build the airport.

The other part of that headline concerns the building of an arena at McCormick Place in Chicago. The arena will house many events, but its primary use will be hosting the DePaul Blue Demons men’s and women’s basketball teams. The project is noteworthy because Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed for the state and city to kick in about $100 million worth of public money for the arena, much to the chagrin of many who recognize the crippling debt that the state has incurred with other projects like the Soldier Field renovation and the construction of US Cellular Field.

Now that we’re all familiar with what those bills are going to do, it’s pretty obvious why that headline upset me. For one thing, the third airport is one that isn’t needed. For as much yammering as there has been about how many jobs it would create, the unnecessary expense of the project makes it a completely idiotic move for the state to pursue. The reality is that airlines aren’t going to want to fly out of an airport that is so far from Chicago, and the project will turn to dust in much the same way that the airport in Gary, Indiana has in recent years.

As for the DePaul arena, the notion of building an arena for a team that averages less than 8000 fans a game is beyond stupid. For $100 million in taxpayer money, the team should be able to draw well more than that, and the argument that it’s more convenient for students than the Allstate Arena, which is way over by O'Hare Airport in the western suburbs, is idiotic as well. The arena is nowhere near the university's north side campus, so the reality of the matter is that the arena would be good for the architects and builders, but not much else.

UPDATE: According to this article in Crane's Chicago Business, the ACTUAL attendance for DePaul men's games is around 2900 per game. That number doesn't include the huge numbers of tickets the school buys for its students and gives to charities, which it uses to inflate the number. That makes the above paragraph even more damaging, especially in light of claims by the school and city that the new arena will average 9000 fans per contest. 

These five stories may all concern different facets of our state’s inept government, but they all point to one central theme: whether Democratic or Republican, our representatives and senators are more focused on issues of prestige and re-election than they are about doing the work necessary to pull Illinois out of the morass that it currently finds itself mired in.

People can try to make political hay and blame the controlling Democrats or the power-hungry bigwigs like Madigan who refuse to support anything they haven’t put their stamp of construction on, but that misses the bigger point. 

We as voters need to make sure that when our ballots arrive in the mail or are placed in our hands by election judges that we aren’t just blindly voting for the name we recognize or the letter denoting the party that we support. Rather, we need to hold ALL of our politicians to account, and demand that they take action to better the interests of the whole state, and not just of their party or their lobbyist benefactors.

I, for one, am sick of this garbage, and encourage those of you not familiar with the machinations of our increasingly dishonest and worthless governors to learn the facts and demand changes. I know I will. 

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