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It's time to call for the change Illinois needs
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 5/1/2009 12:02 AM

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It's time to hit the alarm button here.

As of today, there is one month left until the Illinois Legislature's scheduled adjournment. And there are few signs to suggest our elected state officials intend to meaningfully and comprehensively take steps to try to fix the tainted system in which they operate.

Yes, they removed former Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office and deserve praise for it. But much, much more needs to be done.

Yes, there are pieces of legislation in the hopper aimed at forcing more government openness, but there are no guarantees they will continue moving through the system. And even if they do, that step alone is not enough.

There is one group that is made up mostly of legislative and executive outsiders that has delivered a comprehensive set of proposals aimed at cleansing Illinois of its endemic corruption. That group, the Illinois Reform Commission, delivered its proposals to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday. On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a key lieutenant to Democratic House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, dismissed the mere suggestion the commission's ideas get a hearing in the full House.

"No, there's no chance at all, for heaven's sake," Currie said of the prospects of a House hearing where Commission chair Patrick Collins could testify.

Why not? Why not, for heaven's sake?

The Illinois Reform Commission has proposed 34 reforms in six areas: campaign finance, spending, enforcement, government structure, transparency and ethics. We might not agree with each idea, but we do agree this sort of thorough approach must be seriously considered in this next month and voted upon.

In this spot in recent weeks, we have endorsed many of the group's ideas for limiting campaign contributions and for scrutinizing the spending of our hard-earned tax dollars.

We also embrace the commission's ideas for trying to stem patronage abuses and for improving morale among rank-and-file state workers. They recommend statewide elected officials be allowed to hire fewer political workers, that a patronage monitor be created, that the political jobs be listed publicly, that state workers be banned from contributing to campaigns, that workers get improved ethics training and testing and annual job evaluations. They also recommend the whistle-blower protection law be more specific and expansive so that state workers who see wrongdoing will be more likely to report it without fearing retaliation. And that pensions for all workers be calculated in the exact same way.

These are ideas that make sense. These are ideas that are needed. Desperately.

If they were implemented, we might not have had news last week that Blagojevich gave a top policy job to someone from whom he had purchased suits. We might not have had news last week that three Democrats on a state panel approved a $40,000 increase to the annual pension of a former downstate Democratic House member, Kurt Granberg. Blagojevich appointed Granberg head of the state's natural resources department. He worked about 20 days before Quinn fired him, but the Democrats on the pension review board gave him the pension sweetener anyway.

None of us need any more evidence that we have a corruption crisis in this state, do we?

It's time rank-and-file legislators locate their backbones and demand leaders allow votes on the Illinois Reform Commission's ideas. It's clear it is up to each of us to also demand a hearing and votes on the commission's ideas.

Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Start here: House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, (773) 581-8000 or (217) 782-5350 or mmadigan@hds.ilga.gov. Senate President John Cullerton, (773) 883-0770 or (217) 782-2728 (Cullerton does not have an e-mail address, for heaven's sake.)