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updated: 8/17/2012 8:15 PM

Quinn says he'll take pension reform to the people

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  • Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn speaks with reporters Friday during a special legislative session to overhaul the state pension system.

      Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn speaks with reporters Friday during a special legislative session to overhaul the state pension system.
    Associated Press

  • Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn speaks with reporters Friday during a special legislative session to overhaul the state pension system.

      Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn speaks with reporters Friday during a special legislative session to overhaul the state pension system.
    Associated Press

  • Lawmakers met under the Illinois Capitol dome Friday to talk once again about pension reform.

       Lawmakers met under the Illinois Capitol dome Friday to talk once again about pension reform.
    Gilbert R. Boucher | Staff Photographer

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn's weeks of calls for lawmakers to cut public pensions ended in failure for the governor Friday, with lawmakers leaving town without a plan ready for him to sign into law.

Plans to cut pension benefits for teachers, university employees and state workers weren't even publicly considered during the single-day special session called by Quinn, signaling the governor's inability to broker a deal between his fellow Democrats and Republicans.

Quinn told reporters he now plans to go to the people with a "grass-roots" campaign to get voters to pressure lawmakers into getting something done. But the Democratic governor didn't elaborate on how.

"We have to activate the taxpayers of Illinois," Quinn said.

"To move this mountain, it's going to take a mighty effort," he said.

Quinn didn't say how long the campaign would take, or when it would result in lawmakers returning to Springfield.

On Friday, the Illinois House wasn't able to approve a plan that would have cut lawmakers' pension benefits, a move that could have scored political points but wouldn't have reduced even 1 percent of the state's $83 billion in pension debt.

The plan the House debated would have cut current lawmakers' pension benefits, then eliminated pensions for new lawmakers starting in summer 2013.

"We have the opportunity to do it first, and we should do it," said state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat.

But the plan was said to save $111 million by 2045 -- a number that's only one tenth of 1 percent of the state's overall retirement debt.

"I think this step is a complete joke," said state Rep. Tim Schmitz, a Batavia Republican.

"It's a political vote," said House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego. He criticized Democrats, saying the plan was "perfect for those of you who consider yourselves populists."

In the end, the House voted 54-53 to amend a bill to add the lawmaker pension cuts. But they needed 60 votes to approve the overall legislation and send it to the Senate, and that vote was never taken.

The Illinois Senate didn't vote on any pension proposals, having adjourned before the House even finished debating theirs.

Now, lawmakers aren't scheduled to return to Springfield again until after the Nov. 6 election unless Quinn calls them back again. But many observers have guessed that a controversial topic like retirement cuts could be easier for officials to do once the political pressure of the upcoming election is off.

State Rep. Darlene Senger, a Naperville Republican, said Quinn's bipartisan team of lawmakers met Thursday to try to hash out a compromise for all the state's pension systems. But they didn't make much progress, she said.

Lawmakers are trying to get their arms around Illinois' $83 billion in pension debt and rising retirement payments that take money away from other programs like paying for schools and roads.

But a major sticking point, Senger said, continues to be a proposal from Democrats that would have suburban and downstate schools pay more toward teachers' pensions -- saving the state billions of dollars over time, but likely costing each local school district millions of dollars a year.

"The deal-breaker has always been the cost-shift," Senger said. "And I don't see that being compromised on anytime soon."

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