Governor Pat Quinn today was joined by DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin and several Republican legislators in the governor's push to strengthen comprehensive pension reform by Jan. 9, the end of the current legislative session. The governor met with suburban leaders and discussed the urgent need for action by the General Assembly.
The Chicago Sun Times reported that a "breakthrough" has been reached between Governor Quinn and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on the issue of the suburban and Downstate school districts paying more toward teacher pension costs. A $20 billion tab for the suburban and downstate school districts for funding educators’ pensions has stood as a major impediment toward solving Illinois’ $95 billion pension crisis.
The Daily Herald reported that Quinn talked to Speaker Madigan about the pension issue recently. "Not so long ago, I received a call from (Madigan) and he indicated he is willing to defer any discussion on the cost shift regarding pension reform until a later date," Quinn said. "We would still keep working on that issue, and we would pay attention to that issue. But it was of such paramount importance that we act now to begin the process that (Madigan) was willing to take that particular issue off the table."
Steve Brown, a spokesperson for Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan, said that the a final proposal is still fluid. "There are a dozen different ideas you can put in a bill. I don't know that anyone has identified which of those should be included."
Governor Quinn has been sounding the alarm bells about pension reform and the consequences of inaction by the state legislature on pension reform. The Governor has been sternly warning since last year that without action, Illinois will spend more on pensions than education by Fiscal Year 2016.
“Every day that urgently needed action on pension reform is delayed, the problem gets worse," Governor Quinn said. "As elected leaders, we have a responsibility to put politics aside and enact a solution that prevents skyrocketing pension costs from squeezing out core services like education, public safety and health care. We can do that now and we should not wait another day."
Without pension reform, the unfunded liability grows by $17.1 million every single day. According to the Pew Center for the States, Illinois has the worst-funded pension systems in the nation. As Illinois’ $96 billion unfunded pension liability grows, it squeezes out more and more funding for crucial services such as education, health care, road repair and public safety from the state budget. Without comprehensive pension reform, all areas of the state budget including assistance provided to local communities across the state will be impacted, endangering operations and the ability of communities to improve their infrastructure.
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, who also serves as chairman of the DuPage County Republican Party, served in the General Assembly for almost 20 years. Chairman Cronin is a leader among many business and civic figures who recognize the need for a comprehensive solution to Illinois’ most critical financial challenge. Yesterday, a group of better government and civic organizations also endorsed the governor's call for pension reform by Jan. 9.
“Illinois' pension disaster is a statewide problem, not a Springfield problem,” Chairman Cronin said. “People come up to me all the time to express their concerns about the pension crisis and ask what we can do about it. The consequences of this crisis know no boundaries and the solution should have no sole ownership or obligation. Taxpayers expect all of us who serve in public office – from the statehouse all the way down to here at the county and local level – to step up and support meaningful reform measures. The future viability of our state depends on it.”
In April, Governor Quinn proposed a plan that would fully fund the pension system by 2042 and prevent skyrocketing pension costs from squeezing out core services. The governor also launched an education effort to build public awareness about the need for legislative action on pension reform in Springfield and empower citizens to make their voices heard. The governor and his senior staff have been meeting with legislators, leaders and their staffs for weeks to forge common ground on pension reform. The governor continues to work with legislators every day to enact a solution as soon as possible.
The following legislators attended today’s meeting: Rep. Darlene Senger, Rep. Chris Nybo, Rep. Michael Fortner, Rep. Jim Durkin, Rep. Michael Connelly, Rep. Patti Bellock, Rep. Franco Coladipietro, Rep. Randy Ramey, Rep. Dennis Reboletti, Sen. Ron Sandack, and Sen. Tom Johnson.
Governor Quinn has also faced stiff opposition from public unions such as AFSCME Council 31, Illinois AFL-CIO, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, the Illinois Nurses Association and SEIU Local 73. These unions want an "ironclad guarantee" that the state would pay its share into pension funds. The union coalition is also pressing to eliminate $2 billion in corporate tax loopholes to provide revenue to support critical services and operations – for decades, politicians have raided pension funds to pay these expenses.
In return for a guarantee and a concession from these union, the state would fully fund pensions and public employees would pay 2 percent more on a phased-in basis toward their pensions.
The unions say that Governor Quinn's plan (HB 1447) would deprive retirees of one-third of their purchasing power over 20 years. It would force public workers to choose between retiree health care or a significantly reduced cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), and because the COLA would not keep up with inflation, pension payments would effectively be cut every year.
The trick for Governor Quinn is to satisfy and get the support of all parties involved: The Democratic leadership, the Republican leadership, the public unions and the Illinois taxpayers.
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John is the author of an award-winning book, the 2010 Winner of the USA National Best Book award for African-American studies, published by The Elevator Group Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots: How Barack Obama, Two Bookstore Owners, and 300 Volunteers did it. Also available an eBook on Amazon. John is also a member of the Society of Midland Authors and is a book reviewer of political books for the New York Journal of Books