You have to give Gov. Pat Quinn props for keeping attention focused on getting a legislative solution to Illinois' public employee pension crisis. His constant pressure and repeated calls for action have been fraught with myriad political risks and aren't particularly endearing him to either party in the legislature.
Even so, there's an aura of desperation hovering around his call for a June 19 special session, without hint of a break in the logjam holding up competing House and Senate approaches to the problem. After all, under not-so-different circumstances, lawmakers and their leaders demonstrated last August that they're perfectly willing to take the per diems and trek to Springfield for a special session day of achieving nothing on pensions.
But one thing could be different this time -- aside from the not insignificant fact that the state's financial condition has only worsened. That is, for Gov. Quinn to take a specific stand himself. Up to this point, the thrust of the governor's message has been that legislative leaders have an urgent duty to put a pension solution on his desk that he can sign. And they do. And, yes, their dig-in-the-heels power struggles have brought us to the impasse wherein we now are mired.
But Quinn has a duty as well, and it goes beyond merely working to, in his words on Saturday, "push and push and push" lawmakers to give him something to sign, while he himself walks a fine line between proposals, rarely showing support even for random details in a specific approach. Indeed, his call Monday for a proposal including both the House and the Senate plans does more to foster the impression of action without identifying it than to move the state toward a viable solution.
The governor is in a delicate position, to be sure. He has to urge action while leaving himself room to approve or reject whatever unpredictable legislation that may one day be presented to him. And, he has to do this while managing two political powerhouses, both within his own party.
But as Quinn also has said -- and the bonding houses that again downgraded the state's credit last week emphasized -- this issue isn't about politics. It's about the financial well-being of the state and of the 13 million people who live, work and do business here.
In their interest, it is not enough just to hope an arbitrary deadline will embarrass lawmakers into almost any action nor to throw up our hands and let the courts decide whether one, both or neither of the competing plans -- one of which works and one of which doesn't -- is legally acceptable. Quinn is right that Madigan and Cullerton and their separate supporters need to move off the dime on pension reform. But his office also has weight that can prod the moving -- and, at that, toward specific action that in his vision has potential to solve the problem. We have said that action should lean strongly toward the proposal approved by the House, and Quinn himself has acknowledged that that proposal's approach is the one that best puts the state on a path to financial recovery. So, hopefully his vision will move the decision in that direction if not toward that plan entirely. But move the decision it must.
Forcing all lawmakers to head to Springfield may have some symbolic value, but history suggests the best hope for such a strategy would require the governor to lock the doors of the Capitol from the outside and refuse to let anyone leave until legislation is moved to his desk. Inasmuch as that is neither likely nor legal, Quinn's next best option is to put his office's own considerable shoulder into advancement of a workable solution.
It's good that he has been demanding action on pensions and that he's reached out to legislative leaders to urge compromise and cooperation. Now, if we really want movement next week, we need the governor to put his office's weight behind something workable and add that to all the pushing he's doing.