About 160 persons – some apparently suffering a post-election letdown – attended the annual Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast on Feb. 5. Chamber Executive Director Jonathan Perman moderated a panel of legislators – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, State Senator Jeff Schoenberg, State Representative Julie Hamos and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin – asking each a question about the voting public, the state budget, and county government.
Mr. Schoenberg, asked whether the failures of referenda on capital improvement works in New Trier Township and in River Forest indicated voter dissatisfaction, said, “People are fearful even more than they are frustrated. … They have had abrupt changes in their own economic status and felt that their economic situation is tenuous.”
Both Mr. Durbin and Ms. Schakowsky answered questions about the role of government in these times of economic distress. “People are critical of politicians,” Mr. Durbin said. “They question our motives – and they should. They don’t know if government can help or hurt. I think we have to understand that it is necessary for us to gather together as an American family and address the problem [of the economy].” He also said he thought the government had helped prevent a financial meltdown in 2008. “We have stared at the abyss and stepped away – barely.”
Ms. Schakowsky said, “The things this government has done have made a big difference and are putting us on the right track. … Government can be the solution when the private sector fails.” She also said that, even though many people objected to the bank bailouts, “Sometimes you have to help the bad guys to help the good guys.”
Referring to the state’s financial crisis – a $12 billion shortfall in the budget – Ms. Hamos said, “I don’t feel like we have any plan underway at all. This was the worst budget year ever. We completely abandoned our responsibility as legislators: We gave the governor a lump-sum budget and said ‘You fix it.’ I have not one good thing to say about how we approved [the budget]. … We see the taxpayers’ revolt.”
Ms. Hamos said, though, that she felt optimistic about funding for infrastructure projects. “There is some real money right now for infrastructure.”
Mr. Suffredin articulated what he felt the near future for Cook County would be. “Even though we have new leadership, we still have nine more months of Todd Stroger. … Our lame-duck period is something that should scare anybody more than any other lame-duck session in the state.” He said he thought Toni Preckwinkle, who will be the Democratic candidate for Cook County Board president, would try to repeal the sales tax if that has not already been done, make permanent the health board that oversees Stroger Hospital, and work on economic development. … [Provided that she wins,] she will be up here [in Evanston], because she realizes that the county has not been an effective [economic development] partner with municipalities.”