Take the Agenda…or the Helpless Get It
Perhaps you remember the infamous National Lampoon #34’s cover shot by Ronald G. Harris in the days before photo shopping. It more than raised a few eyebrows; in fact, it brought forth vehement protest on the part of animal activist groups and other humane organizations that felt the exploitation of a helpless creature(s) was unspeakably wrong.
Last evening at a “town hall meeting” in Naperville, one held by State Representative Grant Wehrli and State Senator Michael Connelly, the two politicians tried to emphasize the importance of passing Bruce Rauner’s TurnAround Agenda as a prerequisite for the promised increases in revenue that the new Governor had assured – and the possible relief to those citizens facing brutal cuts to social service programs.
Likewise, their allegiance to Rauner as well as their strong vows of compassionate conservatism (especially by Representative Wehrli) raised more than a few eyebrows and prompted some serious questions by young and elderly about the direction of Illinois – and its current indirection.
By the end of the evening, a good number of individuals had expressed serious concerns with the manner in which the new Governor identified and held up the marginalized and impoverished as a negotiating tool in his standoff with his political foes. One elderly gentleman held the audience’s attention for nearly ten minutes, describing the unacceptable immorality of holding the poor responsible for the revenue shortfalls the state was experiencing. The applause was resounding.
Another lady wondered at the Governors imperfect timing, especially Good Friday for adding $26 million in cuts to children suffering from autism, or those too poor to afford a burial, etc. She softly grilled both politicians about the Governor’s awkward timing and the primary use of the poor and the infirm as hostages in his fight for a budget resolution. “Why them first?” she asked. “Why not at first find other areas to cut, or other ways to seek resolution? Why must those least able be the ones?”
|Senator Michael Connelly|
Both politicians reiterated their conservative compassion, and Senator Connelly reminded the questioner of the fine work that had been accomplished when they all worked together to correct the waste and fraud of Medicaid.
Indeed, they did (from an earlier blog on the identified Medicaid changes in 2012).
“Family Care for those families (two person household) making more than $20,000 annually will see their access to assistance stopped immediately.
While this may seem injurious to those in the shady area that hovers just above a basic $20,000, Republican Senator Dale Righter of Matoon, IL, rationalizes this as an appropriate line in the sand: “We need to incentivize the providers to make the Medicaid population healthier. To me, this is about pay for performance” (www. Sj-r.com/top-stories/x188778215/New-Medicaid-law-Needed-reform-or-Scrooge-like?zc_p=1). In other words, let’s target the most desperate cases while eliminating the merely needy. With that logic, those struggling people working at basic service jobs earning just over $20,000 annually are doing well enough to no longer deserve medical assistance, even if they have kids.”
According to Rep. Wehrli and Sen. Connelly, the state of Illinois has a structural deficit, one which can be mostly alleviated by agreeing with the basic tenets of the Governor’s Agenda – a pro-business effort that will return the numbers of working people to our state. Referring to an ominous looking slide in the PowerPoint showing vectors of numbers leaving an outline of Illinois, both politicians lamented that they might indeed lose their own children to some other place if the terrible business and economic conditions carried on. “If we fix the deplorable business conditions, we fix the revenue issues, and we fix the coming drought to social services.”
Representative Wehrli was asked about the recent Crain;s article indicating that Illinois was just identified as a significant player in the United States for the development of new jobs and businesses, not the dire description they had just addressed.
“So much for the jobs-killer rep—when it comes to states that are growing new businesses, Illinois is among the top U.S. leaders.
The Land of Lincoln ranked No. 2 among states where businesses are being created the fastest, according to numbers released yesterday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
|Representative Grant Wehrli|
Representative Wehrli responded that he had not read the article, but he imagined that “those people running out of unemployment benefits were coming to a point possibly where they needed to jump back in to the work force and that is perhaps what we are seeing; I’m not sure and can’t really say, but I think that may be one possibility…”
Senator Connelly was quick to identify workers’ compensation, another of Rauner’s Agenda items, as causal for the loss of jobs to other areas, ignoring the news release altogether. He explained his inside look at Office Max’s decision to leave Naperville because of the simple differences between costs of workman’s compensation insurances in Illinois vs. Florida. The Senator did not recall that the General Assembly had failed to provide the promised $563 million in EDGE credits to Office Depot, the Florida-based purchaser of Office Max, Nor did he consider that Office Depot’s home in Boca Raton would be a natural residence for its new, smaller corporate purchase.
Representative Wehrli’s justification for Worker compensation tort reform was more to the point. In Illinois,” decried the Representative, “a broken elbow costs (significantly higher) than in Florida.”
One questioner sitting directly in front of the two asked why anyone (including him) should get something like a pension after working at a job. In fact, he wanted to give his back but no one would take it.
Senator Connelly explained that they could not take it back, nor could the state as the Supreme Court had recently declared the pension clause inviolate and the man’s annual annuity was a contractual guarantee for life. “But,” he added, “even my 81 year old retired educator father wonders why he gets the 3% compounded COLA. And that cost-of-living is what’s driving up the costs of pensions and our pension payment every year, eating into all the other services we have discussed this evening.”
Glen Brown, a blogger who has spent years trying to de-bunk this overused misperception was immediately up in his chair and hand waving. His hand continued to wave for another five questions without notice by either the Senator or the Representative. In fact, in regards to the COLA’s Representative Wehrli described a time in the near future where the retirees of the public workers would find themselves “at the Dirksen building without any pensions, wondering what happened?”
It would appear that the 28 page decision by the Supreme Court was just one more article the freshman Representative has not read.
Finally, when asked if the Governor’s credibility with the working people of Illinois faced an increasing, unfortunate disconnect as he traveled about avoiding the crowds of workers waiting for him at various Chamber of Commerce meetings to follow his TurnAround Agenda, or whether a billionaire who calls for the elimination of the unions that protect hundreds of thousands of workers in the state was the wisest way to begin a request to trust him; the Representative answered firmly , “No. He is a man we can trust.”
Connelly swung his arm past Glen Brown to another person who stood and said, “I am a state worker and I don’t trust Madigan.”
And, while both Senator Connelly and Representative Wehrli agreed that they might not agree with “everything on the TurnAround Agenda, they’d support it totally to move our state forward.”
As the meeting wound down and the man next to me reviewed his notes, he noted, “I guess they missed the part on their slide show where it says term limits. I wonder how they feel about term limits?”
Perhaps it is a question Naperville can answer for them.