By Jamey Dunn
After lawmakers failed to approve a pension reform plan during their regular session, Gov. Pat Quinn said today that he plans to meet with legislative leaders next week to hammer out a plan that can pass in both chambers.
"The epic reform of all the most important things we have to do, and really the reform of our lifetimes as far as I'm concerned, is pension reform, and we still have work to do on that," Quinn said. "I think it's important that everyone know that we're racing the clock, that we must get this done as soon as possible. The [bond] rating agencies are poised to decide upon our work, and we must get to work."
Quinn and legislative leaders have voiced concern that bond rating agencies will downgrade the state's credit rating if a change to the pension systems is not accomplished soon.
"What's clear from the legislative action yesterday, there's not a majority in either [chamber] yet for a comprehensive solution," Quinn said. "I think we have the elements. We are very close, but we're not there yet. And so, my mission is to focus on that issue so we can get the job done for the people of Illinois. It will make our state a much stronger state."
Quinn said he thinks that Democrats and Republicans both agree with the "core principle" that local school districts, universities and community colleges have a stake in the cost of retirement benefits for their employees. "It's how to implement that principle that we're still having the negotiations on.
Democrats proposed that the schools assume the cost of the pension systems gradually over multiple years.The state would be responsible for the more than $80 billion unfunded liability, but schools would pick up any future liability that might occur. Republicans said the move would result in property tax increases across the state. House Minority Leader Tom Cross had proposed that districts instead cover the retirement costs incurred from raises given to employees in the last years of work.
"They can't be able to negotiate the contracts and then hand the bill off to someone else," the governor said.
Quinn would not say whether he plans to sign a gaming expansion bill that may be headed to his desk. The measure has passed in both legislative chambers, but Quinn has voiced concerns about the bill. "I believe in a strong ethical framework of oversight and integrity. No campaign from gambling interests. Those are things I have said over and over again. I'll keep saying them." Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, said he plans to introduce another bill that would bar people working at the top of the gaming industry from donating to state political campaigns.
Quinn said he now needs to review the state budget that passed yesterday. He said he is moving forward on facility closures, even though lawmakers put money in the budget to keep facilities open. "I've already made my position clear on that," he said.
He also would not indicate whether he plans to sign a bill that would reinstate a revamped an early release program that would allow prisoners to earn time off their sentences for good behavior. Quinn previously shut down the state's early release program. The Department of Corrections had waived a waiting period for applying the credit, and some inmates got out after serving just weeks of their sentences. The Associated Press revealed the policy, and it resulted in a scandal for Quinn that followed him into the 2010 gubernatorial race. He has not reinstated the policy since, and critics say it has led to dangerous overcrowding in the state's medium security prisons.
"I want to read the bill. A lot of things happen in a flurry here in the last couple of weeks. Before you make judgments on those bills, you have to really look at them with your staff, go over it with a fine-tooth comb," Quinn said.