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Gov. Pat Quinn: State’s worst-in-the-nation unfunded pension burden has grown

Gov. PQuinn (seen here last month) says thpensireform is “most urgent issue our time” certainly our decade.” | Dom Najolia~Sun-Times

Gov. Pat Quinn (seen here last month) says that pension reform is “the most urgent issue of our time,” certainly of our decade.” | Dom Najolia~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 20, 2012 6:29AM

Trying again to build support for his stalled pension-reform efforts, Gov. Pat Quinn said Sunday the state’s unfunded pension burden has grown recently to $96 billion, up from the previous projection of $86 billion.

Quinn tossed out the revised, worst-in-the-nation figure at a news conference in Chicago to announce the start of what he termed as a grass-roots initiative to build public support for changes in the pension system.

The governor said he was seeking to repeat the successes of the populist campaigns he led decades before taking office, when he helped reduce the size of the Illinois House and create the Citizens Utility Board.

Even as he again employed the old political outsider’s trick of the Sunday news conference — hoping to take advantage of the lack of other big news over the weekend to attract maximum media coverage — Quinn said the newly launched pension push would take a decidedly 21st century approach. The governor’s office has set up a website at and will use Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to help educate the public.

“We will get this done,” Quinn said, adding that he views pension reform as “the most urgent issue of our time, certainly of our decade.”

Abdon Pallasch, the Quinn administration’s assistant budget director, said the official figure for the unfunded pension liability grew because leaders of the largest public pension plan, the Teachers Retirement System, recently decreased the rate of return they expect on its investments.

Labor leaders, who had heavily supported Quinn’s election in 2010, quickly responded to the news conference by decrying the governor’s proposal as a “phony plan posing as reform.”

“It will lead to costly legislation while the pension debt grows,” according to a statement from a labor coalition called We Are One Illinois.

Contributing: Dave McKinney

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