Quinn: No hurry to shift pension costs on schools
SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn said Tuesday that while he wants to make local schools and community colleges responsible for the cost of teachers' retirements, it isn't an "essential" part of his immediate plans to cut spending for the state's troubled pensions systems.
In a meeting with the Daily Herald editorial board, the Democratic governor said he'd like the General Assembly to take up the controversial proposal to shift the state's share of pension costs to local schools before lawmakers are scheduled to leave Springfield May 31.
But, Quinn said, he'll focus more in the coming weeks on getting legislators to approve his proposal, announced last week, to have teachers pay more toward their pensions and to raise the retirement age to 67.
Quinn argues it's fair for local schools to take on the state's share of pension costs because school leaders set the teachers' salaries on which pensions are based.
"If you negotiate a contract with your employees, you shouldn't be able to foist the retirement costs onto a different entity that isn't at the bargaining table," he said.
"We want to deal with that accountability principle, but we'll do it on a separate track," Quinn said.
Lawmakers also have to deal with huge proposed cuts to health care spending on the poor, the state's ongoing budget struggles and their re-election campaigns, so it's possible some ambitious plans could go on hold in the remaining six weeks of the legislative session.
"I'd rather have everything done at once, don't get me wrong," Quinn said.
Quinn says he's still working out the details on how a plan to have school districts pay more for pensions would work.
Suburban school officials largely have decried the idea of paying more for teachers' pensions, saying it'll cost them millions of dollars per district.
That could lead to teacher layoffs or property tax hikes to cover the costs, critics say.
Quinn rejects the idea that schools would have to raises taxes and says cuts to benefits mean the burden to schools wouldn't be as big.
"The idea that this is about ... some kind of automatic raise in property taxes, I don't agree with that at all," Quinn said. Shifting the future costs of teachers' retirements could save the state $800 million a year or more at a time when rising pensions costs chip away at Illinois' ability to pay for other programs like school aid and services for the elderly and disabled.
Confronting Illinois' rising costs for pensions and Medicaid are Quinn's top budget priorities for the year and the focus of state lawmakers of both parties.
Quinn appears willing to back down on Medicaid cuts in particular, saying he'll try to keep lawmakers working all summer if a solution isn't found.
"They should cancel summer vacation and holidays until we get it done," he said.