"Abandon all hope, you who enter here." These words from Dante's Inferno should be hung on a big sign outside Springfield until the state legislature resolves the public employee pension crisis.
And the pension fiasco is getting really serious since Governor Pat Quinn suspended the pay of legislators until they fix the pensions.
$100 billion in unpayable pension obligations? So what? Increasing chunks of the state budget going to pensions rather than things such as education? No problem! Six billion dollars for 80,000 unpaid state bills, and millions and millions in additional state interest payments because Illinois has the worst credit rating in the nation? What, me worry?
As state Senator Don Harman said recently to Oak Parkers, this is not a crisis.
But suspend the pay of dawdling legislators? Now that's a crisis.
Notwithstanding Dante's warning, let us pass across the Illinois River, guided by the old ferryman Charon, into our own special state of Illinois, Springfield Hell.
We don't have time to stop at every circle. For example, we will skip the third circle — gluttony — where former governors Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan are force-fed from fruit baskets dropped off by an endless army of grateful patronage workers.
So we come to the fourth circle of hell — greed — and there we see a multitude of state representatives on every side, howling while pushing large weights uphill with their chests and bemoaning their fate. One of the specters identifies himself.
He is speaker of the Illinois House, Mike Madigan. He drops his boulder, slinks over and says, "I gave the teachers and state employees everything they asked for so that I could fill my campaign coffers with their donations, distribute their money to loyal politicians and remain in power for the last 30 years. And I did all this without a care in the world for how the state would pay for the hundreds of billions in pension payments that are now coming due."
"So I screwed up," Madigan said. "But in my defense, I'm the only one in state government who has put together a real plan for saving the Illinois pension programs. My solution would save $187 billion. To do this, I have stood up to the public employee unions and finally did the right thing for Illinois citizens. I called in all my chits with my representatives and got it passed, but those guys in the state Senate didn't like it."
The speaker then shuffled back to his boulder and began pushing again, muttering something about state Senate leader John Cullerton.
We continue on our journey and bypass several other hellish circles until we arrive at circle seven — the profligates who waste money.
As we enter, we see a boiling river of blood. Standing in the river, covered up to their waists, are a gaggle of state senators. Their sin? They did violence to their constituents by not being good stewards of the taxpayers' dollars. They spent too freely until all the money was gone. Now they stand in the boiling brew forever writing out IOUs while being lashed from a whip wielded by a giant ogre named Debt.
From out in the river, Senator John Cullerton calls out, "Help. I'm miserable. And what for? Because I negotiated a deal with the unions that would only save $57 billion? So what if the problem is much bigger than that amount? What's a few billion this way or that?"
As Cullerton tried to move closer to the shore, ferocious dogs nashed their teeth at him.
"It ain't fair, I tell yah," he said. "What's so bad about a few hundred billion in unpayable debt? What's so bad about the worst credit rating in the country?"
Just then a lash from the Ogre called Debt dragged Cullerton back deeper into the river.
And so we continue on into the final circle of Springfield Hell. And there, in the very center, is a giant and terrifying beast. Its name is Inaction, and it is frozen from the waist down. It beats its wings as if to fly but, frozen in place, it goes nowhere. Finally, the beast Inaction, frustrated into submission, takes out a nail file and starts doing its nails.
And that, friends, is where we are at in Springfield.