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Editorial: Gov hopefuls need to put state’s pension challenge ahead of 2014 race

Bill Daley December 2012.  |   Sun-Times Media

Bill Daley in December 2012. | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 13, 2013 6:29AM

Pension reform in Illinois could use a little help from its friends.

Gov. Pat Quinn has called legislators back to Springfield for a June 19 special session for another go-around on Illinois’ biggest financial challenge, trimming future pension costs to something the state can afford.

Let’s hope that doesn’t conflict with another significant development: Political campaigns for governor are kicking into high gear. This week, Democrat Bill Daley all but officially declared he’s running, and Republican Bruce Rauner started running TV campaign ads.

Illinois really, really needs pension reform — pronto. Since the Legislature adjourned May 31 without doing anything about pensions, two rating firms have cut Illinois’ bond ratings, which is expected to drive up costs just as Illinois needs to borrow capital construction money.

A pension reform bill on Quinn’s desk would help taxpayers immensely. But if you’re challenging Quinn in the March 2014 primary, failure to pass pension reform helps you. Would you rather run against a governor who presided over Illinois’ biggest fix or one who couldn’t get the job done?

Besides Rauner and Daley, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford and state Sen. Kirk Dillard, both Republicans, have either announced or are expected to run. And then there’s Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat, who is widely expected to join the others. Her father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, is busy fending off accusations that he’s boosting his daughter’s candidacy by making sure pension reform goes nowhere under Quinn’s watch.

A handful of other candidates also might get into the race.

So here’s our plea to all candidates or would-be candidates: Show real leadership by loudly encouraging legislators to enact pension reform now.

Don’t worry. Illinois will still face plenty of challenges even if significant pension reform passes. Candidates will have no shortage of issues to rail about in their campaigns.

But we need everyone’s help now to make sure pension reform isn’t one of them.

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