Perhaps you’ve seen that bright orange cartoon snake used by Gov. Pat Quinn as the mascot for his pension reform push.
Its name is “Squeezy” and it’s supposed to represent what state employee pension costs are doing to other state programs.
Just as a real python squeezes the life out of its prey, “Squeezy” is crunching other state government finances, taking precious dollars away from things like schools and universities.
Union officials, as well as state lawmakers, say the image of “Squeezy” is somewhat offensive. They say it oversimplifies an extremely complicated issue that affects the livelihood of tens of thousands of Illinois workers and elderly retirees.
So who was the brainchild behind the “Squeezy” concept?
According to a review of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, “Squeezy the Pension Python” first appeared in an email exchange between top Quinn aides in mid-September.
It was kept under wraps for two months until the governor’s office unveiled his so-called “grass roots” education effort in November.
The records don’t show much else, however. The birth of “Squeezy” was apparently so secretive that Quinn’s attorneys blocked out information that might reveal exactly who came up with the concept.
We can tell you this: The first email to mention the name “Squeezy” came from one of Quinn’s longtime sidekicks: Claude Walker.
Walker served with Quinn during his days as state treasurer and rejoined his old boss in 2010 to head a new program designed to promote the state’s waterways. I dubbed Walker the state’s “canoe czar” and the name stuck.
But Walker left the administration after questions were raised about having a paddling specialist on the payroll during tough budget times.
Walker came back to the payroll in August for $80,000. Less than a month later the “Squeezy” moniker surfaced.
Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson says the creation of “Squeezy” was a team effort.
She said former top Quinn aide David Vaught, who ran the governor’s budget office and served as director of the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, was known for describing the pension problem as a “squeeze” on other parts of state government.
“So, if you want to truly trace back the origin of Squeezy, you could go back to David Vaught,” Anderson said in an email.
Despite some of the ridicule, Squeezy continues to play a part in the governor’s pension push.
Last week, Quinn released a new video in which school kids decide to hire a lobbyist in order to have their voices heard in Springfield.
“Tomorrow’s children face a difficult future unless we act responsibly to ease the pension squeeze,” the governor said in a prepared statement.
The real action on pensions is expected to get under way on Jan. 3, when the legislature returns to the Capitol for a five-day lame duck session.
There likely will be lots of fireworks and maybe even a python sighting.
Told you so
State Rep. Brandon Phelps was reminding people last week that he had warned members of the Illinois House many months ago of what might happen if the courts tossed out Illinois’ ban on carrying concealed weapons.
On Tuesday, a federal appeals court in Chicago issued a ruling that gave state lawmakers 180 days to craft a concealed carry law that contains some restrictions, such as not allowing mentally ill people to get permits.
Phelps said if the decision is appealed by gun control advocates, it could result in a ruling that allows Illinoisans to carry weapons without any restrictions, potentially allowing people to walk down a busy street with an assault weapon strapped to their back.
At the time of his warning last spring, the likelihood of getting a decision out of the appeals court mirroring the one that came down Tuesday seemed like a long-shot.
“I told them this could happen,” said Phelps. “You heard me. I said this could happen.”
Quinn, who has previously said he would veto legislation legalizing concealed carry, said he plans to play an active role in negotiating a compromise.
“You don’t have a law until you have the governor’s signature,” Quinn said.
In February, Quinn released a document predicting 786 people would be laid off when he closed prison facilities in Tamms, Dwight, Carbondale and Decatur.
The actual number who’ll be laid off, according to prison officials: 105.
Most of the employees have been able to keep their state jobs because there were so many vacant positions within the prison system.