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Tipping the scales against Illinois

Updated: July 25, 2013 4:56PM



While watching White Sox players embarrass themselves yet again this week, my sad eyes turned to a private club behind home plate.

The slogan “You got a guy” was plastered all over the front of the club, which is run by a Chicago ticket broker.

This being Chicago, everybody wants “a guy” to handle things. It’s who you know, not what you know. That ticket broker sure knows his target audience well, I thought, as yet another Sox player committed yet another moronic error.

A Metra employee who couldn’t get a raise last year after his supervisor recommended a pay hike turned to his guy, who just happened to be Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. The rest is history.

Pretty much everybody who even glances at a newspaper has heard the Madigan/Metra story. But here’s a story you probably haven’t heard.

Former Illinois Attorney General Ty Fahner runs the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. The Civic Committee is made up of top execs from the area’s largest employers. These are definitely big guys. The biggest of the big.

Fahner and his group have been pushing a public employee pension reform plan for years because the state can’t afford to meet its obligations. But initially, Fahner and his cohorts met a wall of stiff, bipartisan resistance.

Fahner was asked during a previously ignored speech why he didn’t take a more radical approach. What about trying to knock down the state’s credit rating into junk bond territory and drive the state’s borrowing costs up so high that public pressure would finally be felt, a questioner suggested.

It turns out Fahner was way ahead of the questioner.

“Me and some of the people that make up the Civic Committee,” Fahner said “did meet with and call — in one case in person — and a couple of calls to Moody’s and Fitch and Standard & Poors, and say ‘How in the hell can you guys do this? You are an enabler to let the state continue. You keep threatening more and more and more.’”

In other words, they asked their guys to tank our bond rating like you or I might call a ticket broker.

Did it work? Well, the state’s bond ratings have been falling even though Illinois approved the same sort of pension reform three years ago that won California plaudits last year and a bond upgrade this year. California is far better managed than Illinois, and our state does deserve most of the fiscal criticism it has received. But a bunch of rich and powerful people putting their thumb on the scale against their own state seems more than a little repugnant to me.

Fahner said they stopped pressuring the ratings agencies around January of this year. They didn’t “want to be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” on the state losing its investment grade status, he said in the March speech at the Union League Club. So, at least they had sense enough to back off before they helped push us over one of the worst cliffs imaginable.

Whatever happened, this was way beyond calling a guy to get a sweet seat for a Sox game, or a pay raise. Even if Fahner and his buddies played only a small role, downgrades have cost taxpayers millions of dollars in increased interest payments and have so far not led to a pension reform solution.

The White Sox may have to destroy this awful team in order to rebuild it. But a state ain’t a ball club full of millionaire players. When the state is hurt, we all get hurt, no matter the goal. And bragging about it is even worse.



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