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Editorial: A quack at reform

Illinois Senate President John CullertD-Chicago Monday demanded  GOP gubernatorial candidates offer their solutions fill state's looming $3 billibudget hole.|

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, on Monday demanded GOP gubernatorial candidates offer their solutions to fill the state's looming $3 billion budget hole.| Associated Press files

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Updated: December 9, 2012 7:28PM

Maybe now, during a rare seven-day window of opportunity, the Illinois General Assembly can fix the single biggest threat to our state’s financial well-being — the enormous burden of public employee pensions.

Tuesday’s election has set the stage in Springfield for what one veteran legislator likens to a game of Russian roulette.

Five lawmakers lost their races. Combined with legislators who didn’t run again or lost primary races, at least 35 lame ducks will flock to the Statehouse on Jan. 2 and roost until Jan. 9, when a new General Assembly is sworn in.

That’s where the Russian roulette comes in. Lame ducks with nothing to lose might start voting in unexpected ways. You never know what’s going to happen.

Nothing much is likely to make headlines when the Legislature reconvenes later this month because the rules require supermajorities for anything to pass. But after Jan. 1, it reverts to simple majority rule.

In a similar situation two years ago, major legislation gushed through the Legislature. We got a temporary state income tax increase, civil unions and the abolition of the death penalty.

This year, in addition to pension reform, there is talk of making the temporary income tax increase permanent, although a spokeswoman said Senate President John Cullerton is opposed.

Admittedly, putting such big decisions in the hands of lawmakers who won’t face the voters again feels undemocratic. But if that is what it takes to lower pension costs, we’ll take it.

The state has an $83 billion unfunded pension tab that grows by $12 million a day, according to the governor’s office. The state’s credit rating has been downgraded, and could be again.

Lame duck status for so many legislators presents one possible opportunity for pension reform. Another approach would be to change the proposals themselves. But so far, nothing has emerged that gets the support of a majority in each house.

Failure is not an option. It is critical that Springfield get its ducks in a row.

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