Quinn: Leaders are ‘very, very close’ on pension reform
BY DAVE MCKINNEY AND ANDREW MALONEY Staff Reporters June 1, 2012 1:04PM
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Updated: July 6, 2012 10:45AM
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn said he and the four legislative leaders Friday are “very, very close” to resolving the key sticking point behind this week’s collapse of a major pension-reform package that had been one of his top two priorities this spring at the Statehouse.
“I believe we can thread this needle and do it quickly,” Quinn told reporters during a news conference during which he pledged to jumpstart the stalled pension issue by sitting down with the leaders during the next week.
Illinois lawmakers concluded their spring session Thursday unable to pass a sprawling reform package aimed at rescuing the state’s five underwater pension funds, which have liabilities of $83 billion and rank as the worst-funded pension systems in the country.
A deal unraveled when House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) couldn’t agree on how — or whether — to force suburban and Downstate school districts to begin shouldering part of the $800 million funding load from the state for teacher and administrative pensions.
Without offering details about how to break that impasse or laying blame on either Madigan or Cross, Quinn emphasized that he believes that state taxpayers shouldn’t have the full responsibility of paying for pensions for educators whose salaries are set by school boards and for which the state has no say.
“It’s important we try to get a decision as quickly as possible on the core issue of resolving the pension liability. I believe in the principle of accountability, that every unit of government that negotiates a contract should have a stake in that contract, should have skin in that game,” the governor said.
Quinn warned that without prompt action, state borrowing costs could soar because of potential credit downgrades from bond-rating houses that were expecting the state to address its unfunded pension liabilities.
“We’re racing the clock. We have little time to spare. Time is of the essence. This is not something that we can meander on,” the governor said. “We must focus on pension reform like never before, and if we do, I think we can accomplish something that will last in Illinois for generations.”