As we begin this season of giving, what if all our Illinois public servants, community activists and advocates came together and gave up something in return for our long-term gain?
Each actually has some incentive to get this done. It’s in their best interests to do it.
Can you see it? Can you imagine it in your mind’s eye? Are you willing to ask for it?
Over the weekend, Cardinal Blase Cupich seemed to be seeing it.
“We have challenges in the state of Illinois, not just in terms of the budget, but also in terms of violence in our cities and the feeling of being disenfranchised on the part of a lot of people,” he said Friday. “We can do better and I am confident that if we work together, we will.”
Later, Cupich bemoaned the shooting death of the grandson of U.S. Rep Danny Davis and all the others that came before. As the year comes to a close, Chicago still is surpassing Los Angeles and New York, combined, for murders.
Mourning the loss of his 15-year-old grandson, Javon Wilson, Davis called for a state of emergency to free up resources for high-crime, low-employment areas of the state.
What if we built on that?
What if Cardinal Cupich and Congressman Davis publicly, together, called for convening a city-state summit so that our public servants and activists could begin to work on all our major challenges?
Who would dare say no to these two men right now?
The summit would include Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan and the other legislative leaders. It would include representatives of AFSCME Council 31, the largest union of state workers, which just lost a big round in its ongoing battle with Rauner. It would include Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. It would include some college officials, social service agency leaders and some of the activists marching downtown because they fear the advent of a Donald Trump presidency.
The agenda? A state budget deal that would save what’s left of our social services safety net and our public colleges, and which would get some pension aid to Chicago. That would include cutting some college administrator pay and maybe across-the-board government cuts. It would include raising some taxes, freezing property taxes and giving in on workers’ compensation reform to see if it will help spur economic activity.
It would include passing some pension changes to give state workers choices that would save taxpayers some money. It would include AFSCME letting go of some demands — not all — to save us nearly $3 billion a year.
Why not try some empowerment zones in Englewood and other violence-plagued neighborhoods in an all-out effort to attract jobs? Why not try midnight basketball again, as Davis suggested, and even more after-school programs with off-duty cops and others volunteering to staff them?
It could include more if everyone came together motivated to forge solutions.
What about motivation? Why should Rauner and Madigan, in particular, be willing to do this now rather than wait until after 2018?
Madigan should look beyond Chicago and see red getting redder. Rauner took six seats from him and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton in a presidential year with a map Democrats drew. And Rauner just revealed he earned $188 million last year, meaning he has money to burn in 2018. Democrats have offered no vision to counter Rauner’s. A few of Madigan’s Democrats are publicly wondering when Madigan will offer one.
Rauner’s motivation? His popularity has tanked since his election in 2014. He overplayed his union hand and has no real policy successes to show for the first half of his term. The governor already has said he’ll sign some tax increases if Democrats will give him a few things. He shouldn’t want to run in 2018 without a real budget under his belt.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel could get some real public buy-in to help with the city’s pension mess, the violence and low-employment problem that plagues so many West Side communities. Each person at this summit would benefit from having all the others standing with them, taking the heat and the praise for solutions, including ones that cause taxpayers pain.
It’s been a year since we all watched Laquan McDonald shot 16 times. It’s been 1.5 years since we had a state budget. We have more than $10 billion in overdue bills and more than $130 billion in pension debt. We have a city and state with scores of residents crying out for relief.
We could start solving these challenges. Can you imagine it? A working city and state? Are you willing to ask for it?
It can be done. Cupich and Davis could be just the intermediaries to start it.
Come together. Right now.
Madeleine Doubek is publisher of Reboot Illinois.