Illinois politicians may not be ready for reform, but Gov. Pat Quinn and the head of his reform commission are counting on citizens to push for it.
Quinn and Patrick Collins, chair of the Illinois Reform Commission, which recently issued its report, both spoke before a gathering of citizen groups at Highland Park's Congregation Solel Sunday.
Quinn is hoping to get a reform bill passed by the end of this legislative session on May 31.
"The people of Illinois are sick and tired of reading in the paper about one politician either going to jail or coming home from jail," Quinn said to overwhelming applause. "This is our hour. This is the moment, the populist moment. These next couple of weeks will really define whether or not we the people can achieve reform."
Quinn suggested that if politicians don't pass reform legislation, it is up to the citizens to take control through referendum.
"This is not a sprint," he said. "We're going to have to empower voters, taxpayers at every level."
Collins received a standing ovation for his brief appearance.
"These next two weeks are truly a battle for the soul of Illinois," said the former assistant U.S. attorney.
"We all have short memories," he told the crowd. "It was just a few months ago, in December, when we arrested Gov. Blagojevich. And we had a lot of folks in the legislature saying this is an unprecedented integrity crisis. The question is are we going to have an unprecedented response to the crisis."
He urged the audience to call or e-mail legislators.
Later, Collins said of the six topics covered in his commission's report, legislation on three has been submitted to the leaders. The remaining three should be covered in the next day or two. "We have had all sorts of interaction with Senate President Cullerton and the LRB (Legislative Reference Bureau), which writes the bills.
"Our job was to put ideas together, and then we were told to put them in the bill, and so we have done that through LRB."
Quinn said he believes progress is being made toward reform of the procurement process - how government purchases goods and services - and freedom of information reform.
However, he said, "Campaign finance may be a lot tougher."
He said he is pushing for public financing and making another stab at a recall provision.
Quinn said the state should take a careful look at public financing for the campaigns for governor and lieutenant governor. The issue, he said, came up a quarter of a century ago, when it was proposed by former state Sen. Dawn Clark Netsch, who sponsored a bill in the Illinois Senate. The money would have come from wrongdoers in the form of a surcharge on fines He said it passed through the Senate and went to the house where current House Speaker Michael Madigan sponsored it. It was halted, however, by then-Gov. James Thompson. "I hope we can rectify his mistake and clean up campaign financing."
Quinn also addressed other issues, declaring his support for public charter schools, which also received an ovation.
He also defended his support of an income tax hike, noting that when the Illinois income tax began 40 years ago, each person was eligible for a $1,000 exemption. That, however, was only raised once, to $2,000, he said. As a result, more of the tax burden has fallen on the working poor. He said his proposal would tax those who have the ability to pay it by raising the personal exemption, offering credits and providing property tax relief.