SPRINGFIELD – A day after angry union protesters disrupted a Democratic rally, Illinois Republicans said they hope that type of frustration will lead in November to voters rejecting the party that now dominates state government.
Republicans who gathered Thursday for their own rally at the state fair said voters are fed up with Democrats for raising taxes, letting bills go unpaid and failing to cut unemployment further. The latest failure, they said, is the deadlock on overhauling pensions for public employees.
Republicans claim Democrats want to delay action on that until after the election and then pass a reform that would include shifting pension costs to local school districts, likely raising property taxes. Both parties meet each year at the state fair and then hold rallies there to energize members. The Republican rally was a low-key affair filled with praise for GOP congressional candidates and criticism for Democrats in the White House and Statehouse.
It was a far cry from the Democratic rally, where protesters booed House Speaker Michael Madigan and drowned out Gov. Pat Quinn’s speech with a mix of boos, chants and shouts of “liar!”
They were furious at Quinn for canceling raises required by union contracts, cutting jobs and trying to cut retirement benefits for state employees, teachers outside Chicago and university staff.
“I think the protest you saw [Wednesday] is representative of larger anger throughout the state of Illinois with the failed policies of Mike Madigan and Pat Quinn,” said Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party.
Party leaders acknowledged it may be difficult to get union members to vote Republican, although they promised to reach out to organized labor.
but they predicted frustrated union members will stay home instead of working hard for Democratic candidates.
Democrats insist Republicans are the one standing in the way of progress on pensions.
Quinn issued a statement Thursday urging Republican legislators to help “rescue Illinois from empty promises that led to skyrocketing pension costs” when the General Awssembly meets in a special session Friday. He called for them to back legislation that would cut retirement benefits but also gradually make downstate and suburban districts pay the pension costs of their own employees, as Chicago now does.
Radogno and her House counterpart, Minority Leader Tom Cross of Oswego, both rejected any plan that shifts costs to school districts.
They also rejected a plan that has already passed the Senate with some Republican support. It would sidestep the school issue by cutting benefits only for state employees and university staff, leaving teachers for another time. Like Quinn, they object to that approach because it wouldn’t address a big part of the state’s problem: fast-rising pension costs eating up state money needed for other services, like education.
Cross said Quinn may be sincere about wanting change, but the Democratic House speaker and Senate president are insisting on shifting teacher pension costs to keep anything from passing.
“It’s funny,” Cross said. “You’ve got two guys who don’t want to do it, and one guy who really doesn’t know how to do it.”
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