Quinn: Pension reform push continues
SPRINGFIELD -- A day after Illinois lawmakers left town without finishing Gov. Pat Quinn's highly sought-after pension cutbacks, the Democrat said he'll call top lawmakers together next week with an eye toward taking another shot at it "as soon as possible."
But neither Quinn nor lawmakers closest to the process know exactly when the General Assembly, having adjourned the session after meeting late into the night on Thursday, could be called back to Springfield to try again.
"We've got to accomplish this mission," Quinn said Friday. "And we don't have a lot of time to do it."
Quinn said the state's credit rating could suffer if lawmakers don't act.
Nevertheless, state Rep. Elaine Nekritz said a couple days away from Springfield and the turbulent debate could provide an important "cooling off" period that could help forge a pension compromise, especially as many lawmakers of both parties agree on some of the bigger-picture ideas of pension reform.
"We were not arguing about the core savings of the pension systems," Nekritz said.
Quinn acknowledged that the key hang-up in trying to lower the state's retirement costs was how to pass some of those costs onto suburban schools. He said he thinks an eventual pension proposal will add to local schools' costs, but it's still unclear how.
"Those units of government cannot be free riders," Quinn said of school districts.
Without a special session, the General Assembly is not scheduled to convene again until after the Nov. 6 election.
As long as the pension systems remain unchanged, the state will continue to accumulate debt. Even if lawmakers agree to change the systems to cut costs, a court challenge from unions could delay changes anyway.
"The longer we wait, the more it's going to cost the state," said state Rep. Darlene Senger, a Naperville Republican.
Quinn's pronouncement that lawmakers will return to Springfield soon doesn't guarantee they'll find a compromise.
Because the budget deadline passed at midnight Thursday, legislation that would take effect before June 2013 needs a three-fifths majority for approval. Because getting a simple majority proved impossible in May, finding even more votes in June could prove even harder.
Even the least controversial of the pension reform plans -- one to cut benefits for just lawmakers and state employees, leaving teachers alone -- got the bare minimum 30 votes to get through the Illinois Senate late Thursday night -- six short of a three-fifths majority.