Little urgency, a lot of politicking in Illinois over deepening pension crisis (+video)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) has called lawmakers back into session to try to deal with the state's unfunded pension obligation. But expectations are low for a resolution, even though Democrats control both chambers and the state's credit rating is taking a beating.
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The legislature has not been able to reach a compromise on how to confront the pension crisis since it voted down two different plans offered by each of its majority leaders – House Speaker Michael Madigan (D) and Senate President John Cullerton (D).Skip to next paragraph
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Speaker Madigan’s plan would have raised the retirement age for public employees, required state workers to contribute more toward their retirement, and reduced cost-of-living adjustments for current retirees. Opposition to that plan was particularly strong from Teamsters union representatives working for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, which represents about 2,000 workers and carries $1 billion in unfunded liability.
The Senate bill “is more agreeable to unions,” Giertz says, because it offers workers the choice between the current system and Madigan’s proposal for a higher worker contribution rate. However, if workers choose the current system, any pay raise they receive won't be applied to their pensions.
The two Democratic leaders' inability to hammer out a compromise – even in the face of higher borrowing costs borne by state taxpayers – reflects the gnawing realization that the gridlock is political.
“The Democrats control everything in Illinois, but they are not unified. They are beneficiaries of labor support, and labor is not very happy because of the pensions proposals,” Giertz says. “I don’t see any end in sight to the problem. I see them muddling through. Both bills don’t solve the problem, or reduce it drastically, because really, they’re not a whole lot different.”
Complicating the process is next year's gubernatorial race. Quinn, who plans to run for reelection, will likely face a primary challenge from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Speaker Madigan’s daughter. The speaker, therefore, is not all that invested in resolving a problem that makes the sitting governor look bad in voters' eyes, some suggest. Indeed, the speaker is not returning Quinn’s phone calls about the issue, the Sun-Times reported Friday, and an aide likened the governor to his predecessor, disgraced ex-governor Rod Blagojevich, who called three special sessions during his tenure, all of which proved to be futile.
“Blagojevich proved the value of dragging people back to Springfield when there’s no agreement. The governor tries to avoid comparisons to Blagojevich, I thought,” spokesman Steve Brown told the Sun-Times.
Also getting into the debate is former White House Chief of Staff William Daley, who lambasted Quinn for failing to get both houses in order to pass pension reform.
“Where’s the leadership? … They [Madigan and Cullerton] both had different ideas on this bill. So who's the one who's supposed to forge a compromise? The governor,” Mr. Daley, the brother of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, told the Chicago Tribune earlier this week.
The Sun-Times reports that Daley is expected to announce next week that he will run for governor.
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