Even with the country almost bombing Syria, gubernatorial candidates picking running mates (Kirk Dillard/Jil Tracy and Dan Rutherford/Steve Kim), Ryan Croke replacing Jack Lavin as the governor’s chief-of-staff, a July unemployment rate of 9.2% (49th out of 50 states and only topping Nevada) and legislators still not receiving their paychecks because there has been no movement on crafting pension reform legislation, the number one topic in the Illinois Statehouse is about doors. Granted those doors are copper-plated and cost nearly $700,000, but it shows what can happen when political campaign posturing and the “what would a 10-year old think about this” litmus test converge.
This door situation is part of a $51.5 million renovation of the west wing of the state capitol building. It includes a lot of truly needed remediation work for safety reasons, structural integrity and meeting fire-code and American Disability Act requirements. The problem is that it also includes things like statues, chandeliers and the infamous $670,000 doors. When this came out a couple of weeks ago, it seemed minor. But since then, gubernatorial opponents have used it to question Governor Pat Quinn’s judgment. In a strange bit of irony, legislators from both parties have questioned the renovation project which, by state law, must be run by the Office of the Architect of the Capitol. The irony is that the Office of the Architect of the Capitol is run by a board of directors appointed by the four legislative leaders (meaning both parties of the Illinois House and Senate).
This is such a hot potato that Governor Quinn decided to stop releasing funds for the project this week and there have been calls to have the auditor general conduct an investigation. There was even a meeting on this yesterday with a representative of the architect in charge of the project calling the governor “out of line” for putting the kibosh on the $140 million in renovations for the north side of the capitol. The problem is that the project is in a budget that was passed by the General Assembly, it is pretty much completed and the doors and other ornate stuff has already been bought. In addition to that, as long as the project doesn’t go over budget, there is nothing the auditor general can do about it.
The “what would a 10-year old think” part of this really exposes what this is all about. Some issues are terribly hard for people to get their arms around. One could debate ad nauseam on whether term limits are a good thing as GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner has proposed. Even attorneys cannot agree on whether the pension reform plan touted by the House is legal under the Illinois Constitution. Same-sex marriage will be debated for years with some never wanting them and others never not wanting them and they have been discussing putting a casino in Chicago for two decades.
But, a 10-year old can deduce that if you have so little money that you can’t pay your bills, you should not spend a lot of money on new doors for your home. Forget that the contract has been cut and the project is almost finished - that isn’t the point. It’s the same as if that 10-year old knows that they must clean their room to get their weekly allowance and if they don’t make their bed, they shouldn’t expect to get their allowance. A 10-year old can grasp that. Now, just switch “allowance” for “legislator’s salaries” and switch “making your bed” with “passing a pension bill” and it becomes fairly clear what this is still really about. It all comes back to pension reform being the big issue in the next election cycle for gubernatorial candidates and control of the General Assembly. The pols in the Illinois Statehouse all know that the public, even a 10-year old, can see that they are not doing their jobs until the pension liability issue is resolved and until it is, you shouldn’t buy really expensive doors.