The real reasons why pension reform failed
RICH MILLER email@example.com August 23, 2012 5:46PM
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn heads into a meeting with legislative leaders to discuss a state pension overhaul at the Illinois State Capitol on Friday, Aug. 17, in Springfield. | Seth Perlman~AP
Updated: August 24, 2012 2:26AM
There are a couple of stories the media isn’t telling you. Both are pretty important to understanding what’s happening in Springfield these days.
Let’s start with Gov. Pat Quinn.
The governor called a special legislative session last week that failed miserably. Quinn wanted pension reform addressed, but the House couldn’t even pass a bill, at Quinn’s request, to eliminate future legislative pensions and reform the system that legislators have. The Senate adjourned before the House even voted, strongly signaling that it wasn’t interested in the bill, either.
To avoid looking like a weak and unfocused leader, Quinn has loudly blamed the Republicans for the failure of that bill and claimed that he plans to “activate” the grass roots come September to put pressure on those Republicans to vote for a reform bill.
So we’ll probably see the governor doing news conferences next month assailing Republican House members for voting against reforming their own pension system.
Up until now, however, nobody has really reported details about that House roll call.
Yes, most House Republicans voted against reforming the General Assembly’s pension fund, but so did a whole bunch of Democrats.
The proposal received 54 votes, which is six short of a majority. Several Chicago area Democrats who are allied with Quinn voted “No,” including some liberals and almost the entire House Black Caucus. If the governor had flipped just half of those Democratic “No” votes, the legislative pension reform proposal would’ve received a majority.
About the only place where Quinn still has support in Illinois is in Chicago and in heavily African-American suburban townships.
“Activating the grass roots” in rock-ribbed Republican DuPage County will be fruitless. Almost nobody there cares what he thinks. If Quinn really wants to pass this bill, he’ll focus on his own party members.
Don’t ever expect that to happen, though. This “grass-roots” effort almost surely won’t be about passing a bill. It’s more about political cover for the fall elections.
And that brings us to the other story you’re not being told.
The Republicans say they want reform, and that’s dutifully reported by the media. But the Republicans also won’t compromise to get something done.
There are some serious public policy reasons for this GOP intransigence, but there are also some very sound political reasons as well that nobody really talks about.
Any success at ending the pension stalemate would mean that the ruling Democrats would finally look like they’re getting something accomplished in Springfield. That would be bad for Republicans because their road to victory this year is painted with claims that the majority Democrats are clueless incompetents. Governmental chaos and voter fury is the order of the day, and solving problems won’t help that aim.
And that’s why the Republicans wanted the governor to call more special sessions on pension reform. The GOP knew that nothing would be accomplished on pensions because the Democrats don’t want to upset the teachers and other public employees with harsh pension reforms before the election.
Several Republicans would rather avoid that scenario as well, by the way. They aren’t stupid.
A long round of do-nothing special sessions would’ve made the Democrats look like idiots.
The Democrats aren’t stupid, either. They bolted town after voting on a mostly symbolic legislative pension proposal that they can use in their re-election campaigns.
Almost nobody is being straight with the public on this pension issue. But now I hope you understand a little more about why they’re not.