Gov. Pat Quinn seems to be losing his patience with the General Assembly on the issue of pension reform.
It’s about time.
Quinn hinted last week that he will call the legislature into special session in August to deal with the pension issue, pointing out it has been studied to the point where “the time for study is complete, and now it’ll be time for action.”
But legislative leaders, many Democrats like Quinn, seem perfectly happy to spend their summer campaigning, vacationing and playing golf and don’t seem in any hurry to resolve this key issue in the state’s financial crisis.
Andy Manar, who was Senate President John Cullerton’s chief of staff before deciding to run for Senate in the Decatur/Springfield area, said last week he doesn’t believe senators realize the severity of the state’s financial crisis. Even if you discount that comment as a political strategy to distance himself from his former boss, it’s an incredible statement about our elected leaders.
But it appears to be true. The General Assembly adjourned in May without solving the pension issues — and there is no solution to the state’s financial woes that doesn’t involve solving them. Leaders in the debate said they needed more information, which is pretty incredible given the years the crisis has been apparent.
A subsequent meeting included a request for even more information. The tactic seems to be to study the issue all summer and then delay a decision until after the November election. Once again, legislators are putting their own self interests ahead of Illinois.
One of the main sticking points is the question of shifting funding for pensions from the state to individual school districts. Suburban and downstate school districts do not pay pension costs, which has resulted in all sorts of questionable practices such as end-of-career pay escalations. In other words, districts have been happy to shift costs to the state.
Republicans, who generally oppose the shift, say it will financially cripple some school districts and lead to property tax increases. That may be true in some case, but many districts have ample reserves to handle the pension cost shift. Other districts could pay for the shift by giving away fewer pension goodies. Ultimately, it makes sense for local school districts to pay for their own pension decisions. And if the pension issue isn’t addressed, tax increases are inevitable. Taxpayers would have much more control over what’s done by local school boards than what happens in the General Assembly late at night during a lame duck session.
It’s also enlightening to look at when Quinn might call a special session, as outlined in the political newsletter, Capital Fax. The National Conference of State Legislatures meets Aug. 6-9 in Chicago, the Illinois State Fair runs Aug. 9-19 with Governor’s Day on Aug. 15 and Republican Day the next day, and the Republican National Convention runs Aug. 27-30.
That’s a pretty full agenda, but is it too much to ask our elected representatives to take a couple of days and deal with the one issue that is crippling the state financially?
Whether Quinn calls the General Assembly into special session remains to be seen. He’s offered empty threats before, at one time saying he’d have the General Assembly in session all summer if the issue wasn’t addressed.
But the pension issue won’t go away. It won’t be washed away by a rain storm and it can’t be solved while campaigning during a parade, attending a convention or playing golf. The General Assembly needs to do its job and Quinn should do whatever is necessary to make sure that happens.