Editorials

Seeking a coup d’etat against the King of Illinois

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s control of legislation is unparallelled in the nation. On Wednesday lawmakers will decide whether to continue his reign. Even if they pick someone else, reducing the concentration of power will take longer.
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s control of legislation is unparallelled in the nation. On Wednesday lawmakers will decide whether to continue his reign. Even if they pick someone else, reducing the concentration of power will take longer. Illinois Policy

You didn’t vote for the King of Illinois. You likely wouldn’t vote for him given the chance. But on Wednesday the people you elected to the Illinois House of Representatives will again vote on a speaker. Vegas odds are on Mike Madigan, again.

Madigan has been in the House since 1971 and speaker for all but two years since 1983. He is the rock in the stream that carried six governors, more than 200 state senators and more than 500 representatives past him.

When he took office, Illinois owed $2.4 billion to its state pensions. Now it owes $130 billion.

Since he became speaker the median property tax bill in Illinois has grown 432 percent. Only one state has higher property tax bills than Illinois.

Too easy to make one guy the villain in this tragic comedy? Well, Madigan has been the consistent factor, although he has had plenty of sidekicks such as Blagojevich and Quinn. Representatives say resistance leads to retribution that limits their ability to represent, so they play pawns to the King.

He recently laid bare his alternative to reforms, and he wants to “start” by taking the state income tax from 3.75 percent back up to 5 percent — the rate that put $25 billion extra into the state’s coffers as they spent their way into even worse financial shape. Our bill backlog is now just shy of $11 billion, and we’ve had no state budget for 558 days.

Illinois must change, and that means cutting off the head. Madigan will tax his way out of this fiscal nightmare, but the hopeful path is to reform so employers return and there are more taxpayers to share the burden.

Additionally, a new House speaker won’t fix all the power concentrated on that post. Illinois is among the few states that give one person the ability to block bills, to instantly swap committee assignments so representatives can avoid unpopular votes and gives the speaker a $10,000 perk to reward his lieutenants appointed to chair committees. Those rules must change so we don’t just enthrone a new ruler.

More than a month ago one of our reporters asked Illinois House members how they planned to vote regarding the House speaker. Only Rep. Jerry Costello II answered, saying he didn’t yet know.

Well, we reached out to Democratic state representatives Jay Hoffman, LaToya Greenwood, Katie Stuart, Dan Beiser and Costello again. Again, only Costello responded and said he couldn’t comment until after he saw the candidates and assessed who would put him in the best position to represent his district.

Maybe history is the best predictor. Hoffman voted 11 times to make Madigan speaker. Costello twice voted for him and received nearly $200,000 in campaign funds from Madigan. Stuart is new to Springfield, but got about $900,000 from Madigan. Beiser, six votes for Madigan and more than $700,000 this election cycle. Greenwood is a newbie who only got $31,000 — apparently a safe Democratic district with opposition from a two-time felon didn’t get Mike too worked up.

If you have some thoughts on who your state representative should, or more to the point who they should not, elect as Illinois House Speaker on Wednesday, give them a ring or e-mail them about how they can best represent you. The tax dollars, neighbor or job you save may be your own.

Contact your state representatives

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