Politics expert in Schaumburg finds dark humor in political dysfunction
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Editor's note: Corrections have been made to this article since it first appeared online.
Illinois' pension crisis will slowly bleed the state to death unless or until politicians are made to feel that the personal cost of doing nothing outweighs the cost of taking a stab at something.
That was among the bleak but usually darkly humorous observations Roosevelt University's Institute for Politics Director Paul Green made on state and national politics at the Schaumburg Business Association's monthly breakfast meeting Tuesday.
Green put part of the blame on the media, much of which has yet to put the pension crisis on the same level of importance as the Chicago Blackhawks' winning streak or the next cast of "Dancing with the Stars," he said.
But whenever politicians are made to feel the time is right, the pension crisis by necessity will be resolved by a political game of chicken, Green said.
While the Illinois Constitution clearly states pension benefits cannot be impaired or diminished, the state doesn't have the money to make good on that promise.
"How can you be constitutional and pay the bills?" Green asked. "We have to either change the constitution or discover oil."
Even the state's attempt to address the matter with an income tax increase fell short, Green said. While the tax hike created $600 million in new revenue, there has since been a $945 million increase in pension benefits — beginning the "solution" with a $345 million deficit.
"If you ran a business like the state of Illinois is run, (Cook County) Sheriff Dart would have his deputies out putting white sheets over all your furniture out on the sidewalk," Green said.
While the nation's issues are only slightly different, in both Washington and Springfield politics and economics have become completely indistinguishable, he said.
Green likened the Tea Party's and right wing's role to a Christian Scientist going to medical school.
"If you hate government, you want to ruin it," he said.
Nevertheless, Republicans' desire to slash all spending — except the kind they like — is no different from Democrats' opposition to defense spending except when it provides jobs in their own states, Green said.
But the Far Left has been frustrated with President Barack Obama and jealous that it isn't in on the action like the Far Right, he added.
Still, it is Republicans who are facing the bleaker outlook on the 2016 election, Green said.
Since 1992, Democrats have won the popular vote in five of six presidential elections. Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., have gone Democratic every time, while only 13 states have been Republican every time. That leaves Republicans with the task of winning 168 of 194 electoral votes from the "purple" states in 2014, he said.
One state that could hardly be considered in play, though, is Illinois.
"If you are an Illinois Republican, you are truly a person of courage," Green said.
In recent years, though, Republicans have begun to tap the Hispanic vote after realizing that being "pale, male and stale" doesn't cut it anymore, he joked.
But both sides in Washington must find a way to work through their differences to put this period of history into history, Green said. He pointed to the jobless economic recovery as a sign of a true problem with the status quo.
"The country is in deep doo doo," Green said. "It truly needs to find a way out of this."
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