Gov. Pat Quinn accomplished something in 2012 his former running mate could never quite get done in his six years as chief executive.
Quinn, who won two terms as lieutenant governor while sharing a ticket with the now-imprisoned Rod Blagojevich, is poised to oversee the formal closure of a number of state facilities, including prisons in Tamms and Dwight, youth lock-ups in Murphysboro and Joliet, a center for developmentally disabled residents in Jacksonville and halfway houses in Decatur and Carbondale.
Although most of the ink for the past year has been spilled on the state’s ever-growing pension mess, Quinn’s push to close state facilities serves as his biggest accomplishment — and a major source of much anger — for 2012.
Here’s a look back at some of the events that defined the past 365 days in state government:
For years, Blagojevich threatened to close prisons and other state facilities, but never could get the job done.
The reason: Like many things, the poofy-haired Chicago Democrat saw the threat of closing, say, the Pontiac Correctional Center, as more of a bargaining chip to garner votes for other things he was interested in.
Quinn announced a series of closures in February and, despite his predecessor’s past history, stuck with the game plan, resulting in a court ruling earlier this month that pretty much seals his plans in stone.
His push to shutter prisons drew legal challenges — which are still ongoing — from the state’s largest employee union, which has rightfully argued that closing prisons when the entire prison system is overcrowded makes little sense.
Whether his move will make the prison system a powder keg for violent uprisings remains to be seen.
For years, school teachers, university employees and tens of thousands of state workers paid into the state’s pension systems on the belief they’d receive what they were promised. But past governors and members of the General Assembly consistently failed to fully fund what the state owed to the pension systems.
The bill has now come due to the tune of an unimaginable $96 billion.
Now the governor is hoping the legislature can end year’s of irresponsibility in a few short days beginning later this week and solve a problem that has been decades in the making.
He’ll be assisted in his battle by an orange cartoon snake that some unknown person in his administration has dubbed “Squeezy.”
While the pension debate dominated the headlines in 2012, there are strong rumblings that the issue may not be resolved until May.
The 2012 election saw Democrats in the General Assembly blow out their GOP colleagues, winning super-majorities in both the House and the Senate, thanks to maps they drew as part of the once-per-decade redistricting process.
Democrats fared well in congressional races, too, with Cheri Bustos toppling one-term Tea Party incumbent Bobby Schilling for the 17th District seat representing the Quad-Cities and Bill Enyart sending Metro East Republican Jason Plummer back to his dad’s lumber company in the 12th District match-up.
In central Illinois’ 13th District, Republican Rodney Davis of Taylorville beat the trend and downed four-time loser David Gill of Bloomington, who still isn’t returning my calls.
A federal appeals court in December ordered Illinois to bring itself in line with the rest of nation when it comes to allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons. The judges gave the state 180 days to comply. The negotiations won’t be easy. You can expect the massacre of students and staff at a school in Connecticut to play a big role in the debate.
The first Democrat elected governor in 25 years became the latest Illinois governor to head off to jail in March. Last we heard, the man dubbed a “mop-topped weasel” is working in the library of a prison in Colorado, where he is serving a 14-year stretch for corruption.
The big gamble
The General Assembly OK’d a plan to bring video gambling to Illinois in 2009 as a way to raise money for a massive road, bridge and school construction program. It took until September 2012 to get the program up and running at bars, truck stops and fraternal organizations. Meanwhile, a massive expansion of gambling that would include new casinos in Chicago, Rockford, Danville, Waukegan and Cook County’s south suburbs is still awaiting legislative action.
KURT ERICKSON heads Lee Enterprises’ Springfield Bureau, which serves The Southern Illinoisan and other Lee newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 217-782-4043.