Quinn seeks pension vote Tuesday, says it’s time to ‘redouble our efforts’

SHARE Quinn seeks pension vote Tuesday, says it’s time to ‘redouble our efforts’
SHARE Quinn seeks pension vote Tuesday, says it’s time to ‘redouble our efforts’

SPRINGFIELD-With his political back to the wall and time running out, Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday demanded that state lawmakers take a vote on stalled legislation designed to solve the state’s $95 billion pension crisis.

“I really feel it’s important to have a vote on some sort of structure that moves us forward. I think that’s very, very important,” Quinn told reporters at a press conference in his Statehouse office.

The governor laid down the gauntlet as Tuesday marked the last scheduled day of the General Assembly’s lame-duck session and no single pathway toward a pension solution in anyone’s sights.

Sponsors of legislation in the House didn’t call a vote on their plan Monday when it became apparent they didn’t have the 60 votes needed to pass a bill.

Quinn delivered what amounted to a lecture to inert lawmakers who were unmoved by his calls for action on pensions at first last May, then again in a special session last August, then during the fall veto session and now in the closing hours of the 97th General Assembly, whose two-year term ends at noon Wednesday.

“What I’ve heard from employers, families and businesses all across our state is we can’t allow our state economy, the Illinois economy, to be held hostage by political timidity. We have to be bold. We have to do things that are difficult. We have to take on the challenge of our times and meet that challenge. That really is what democracy is all about,” he said.

“I think it’s important to get this job done. That’s what the people want. They want the Legislature, the General Assembly, to make sure it meets the challenge of our time,” Quinn said.

The governor appeared to back stalled legislation in the House being drafted by Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and Rep. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) while criticizing the legislative centerpiece of Senate President John Cullerton’s efforts at pension reform.

“I believe the Senate has had a point of view that got bipartisan support. But it was not comprehensive. It only covered two systems of the four major pension systems. So the Senate has to have a comprehensive plan, just like the House,” Quinn said.

The governor also didn’t single out any legislative leader by name for criticism, including House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), whose power running his legislative chamber has been unmatched in Illinois history yet, for whatever reason, hasn’t been enough to round up the votes on a pension deal.

“I think everybody has to redouble their efforts, whether it’s the speaker of the House, the minority leader in the House, the president of the Senate, the minority leader in the Senate,” he said when asked specifically about whether he was satisfied at Madigan’s role in rounding up votes.

“I think all of us have to redouble our efforts,” Quinn said.

The Nekritz-Biss plan passed out of a House committee Monday despite claims from government employee unions it was an “illegal” breach of the state Constitution, a stance that Cullerton (D-Chicago) appeared to share.

Under the 175-page Nekritz-Biss bill, known as Senate Bill 1673, cost-of-living increases would be frozen for six years and disallowed for retirees until they reach 67. Those retirement cost-of-living increases would be based on only the first $25,000 of a retiree’s pension; pensions would be capped at the Social Security wage base or an employee’s current salary, whichever is higher; employee pension contributions would jump by 1 percent of their wages for two years.

The House plan, which would fully fund the pension systems in 30 years, would apply to four of the state’s five pension systems and, most significantly, would not give existing workers or retirees a choice of accepting reduced pension benefits.

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