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Editorial: Quinn’s pension push has to go beyond annual speeches

Illinois Gov. PQuinn smiles as lawmakers applaud his entrance House chambers before delivering his State State address joint sessiGeneral Assembly

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn smiles as lawmakers applaud his entrance to the House chambers before delivering his State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly at the Illinois State Capitol Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, in Springfield Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: March 8, 2013 7:39AM

We love the passion behind Gov. Pat Quinn’s pep talks.

We love that Quinn has found religion on the need to reduce public employee pension costs in Illinois.

And we love that the governor put these together in his State of the State address, delivered to the General Assembly on Wednesday.

“The public pension system which, left unreformed, is squeezing out education, public safety and other vital services to the tune of $17 million a day,” Quinn said.

“The problem cannot be delayed, deferred or delegated to the next session . . . or to the next generation.”

But it’s not enough.

Gov. Quinn said much the same thing in his 2012 address, pledging to reform the pension system “once and for all.”

And he meant it. A longtime union supporter and advocate for the little guy, Quinn came to this conclusion only because he saw no alternative. Cutting pension costs is right for public employees, whose pensions are at risk, and right for the state, which risks collapsing under the weight of a $95 billion pension debt.

But Quinn can’t do it alone.

He needs rank-and-file legislators and, most importantly, the four legislative leaders to rally behind a pension cost-cutting plan.

The leaders all agree on the need for reform but head to their separate corners when it comes to devising and advancing a plan. When nothing happens, it’s always easier to blame the other guy.

Quinn is backing Senate Bill 1, advanced by Senate President John Cullerton, which includes Cullerton’s plan and a bill backed by Rep. Elaine Nekritz and House Minority Leader Tom Cross. It basically leaves it to the courts to decide which cost-cutting scheme is constitutional.

Cross is noncommittal on Cullerton’s bill, as is the Senate minority leader. And where does the most powerful man in Springfield, House Speaker Michael Madigan, stand? No one really knows.

Like last year, Quinn’s remarks came after yet another credit downgrade for Illinois. Two major credit rating agencies now rank Illinois dead last among all the states.

What exactly are Illinois’ leaders waiting for?

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