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Punting on pensions

Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross R-Oswego shows signs stress while testifying during House Pensicommittee hearing Illinois State Capitol Thursday

Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, shows signs of stress while testifying during a House Pension committee hearing at the Illinois State Capitol Thursday, May 31, 2012 in Springfield Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: July 6, 2012 9:51AM

Cowardice was the word of the day in Springfield on Thursday.

After legislators came tantalizingly close to dramatically reducing public employee pension costs, a comprehensive pension reform package crumbled Thursday night.

State legislative leaders and the governor punted on the last night of the spring legislative session. They are going home without passing a complete pension reform package.


After it became clear Thursday night there would be no sweeping pension reform, Gov. Pat Quinn wasted no time in announcing that he would bring legislators back this summer to finally reform pensions.

Quinn said Illinois has no choice but to dramatically reduce pension costs. He is absolutely right, and we hope he won’t let anything stand in his way. And, more importantly, we hope House Speaker Michael Madigan and House Republican Leader Tom Cross take up the cause with the same level of fervor.

The bill to lower the state’s crippling pension costs went down in flames after those leaders, who had successfully worked together most of the session, started butting heads.

One state representative explained it this way: “We’re caught in a game between Cross and Madigan and we don’t even know what game they’re playing.”

It’s time to end the games, and do the exceptionally hard but necessary work of protecting the state and its employee pension systems from insolvency.

Best case scenario: with a little more time and little less emotion, legislators will be able to complete the job they came very close to finishing this session. This final package should include some shift of pension costs from the state to Downstate and suburban school districts.

Worst scenario: politics and egos get in the way of taking the dramatic steps needed to stabilize a state in desperate need of a financial life raft.

Despite the pension failure, this was a highly productive session. With the governor leading the way, legislators made significant cuts to the state’s Medicaid system, crafted a difficult but responsible budget and took steps to reduce retiree health care costs.

That’s tough work in any year and particularly tough work in an election year.

The state Legislature was on a roll.

Until Thursday.

When the hardest work of all — lowering monstrous pension costs — stopped the governor and legislative leaders in their tracks.

Show Illinois what kind of leaders you really are. Finish the job.

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