The most exciting moment of Wednesday’s special session on pension reform came when a fire alarm was activated in the Capitol, sending scores of lawmakers, aides, reporters and construction workers spilling out of the building.
State Sen. Napoleon Harris, a former professional football player, used the unscheduled break to toss a baseball with his son on the plush grass of the Capitol’s northeast lawn.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, deftly negotiated his way out of the quickly emptying building and spent his time lunching in the nearby Stratton Office Building with some aides.
Others stood on the Capitol steps and speculated about what had caused the alarm to go off.
Was it triggered by the labor unions who are worried they’ll get steamrolled by House Speaker Michael Madigan when it comes to reforming the state’s massively underfunded pension systems?
Did Madigan pull it in an attempt to keep Gov. Pat Quinn off balance?
Did Quinn trip the alarm because Madigan already had him off balance and he simply grabbed at something on the wall of his ceremonial Springfield office for support?
Turns out, it was a faulty smoke detector in the basement.
Quinn, meanwhile, surprised many observers when he told lawmakers they have until July 9 to come up with a solution to the state’s pension mess.
We’ve been down this fake deadline road before: Quinn has set numerous deadlines to get pension reform on track, only to be ignored by the legislative branch.
When the deadlines aren’t met, they make the General Assembly look incompetent and Quinn look weak.
So, he’s potentially set up a scenario where he will again look weak as he heads into a possible re-election bid against former U.S. Treasury Secretary William Daley and Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
He told reporters he is convinced the General Assembly can deliver this time around.
“I think three weeks is sufficient time,” the Chicago Democrat said Wednesday.
What he didn’t account for is that July 9 wasn’t really three weeks away. It was actually one day less. Plus, in the middle of all that, there is the July 4th national holiday on a Thursday, followed on Friday by what likely will be an unofficial national holiday for many who will turn Independence Day into a four-day weekend.
Actuarial studies showing how much the various pension fixes would save also take time to compile.
Quinn didn’t appear concerned by the deadline questions on Wednesday. “In a crisis, you don’t run in place,” the governor said.
Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kirk Dillard’s campaign learned a lesson in the potentially hilarious dangers of using a social media tool that only allows you to post messages of up to 140 characters.
And we’re not talking Pinterest here.
Last week, Dillard’s campaign tweeted this gem:
“Lawmakers return to Springfield today for a Special Session on pension reform. Sen. Dillard will be on the John.”
When you clicked on the link at the end of the message, you learned the tweet had cut off the fact Dillard was scheduled to be on the John Kass and Lauren Cohn radio show on WLS in Chicago.
Dillard is expected to announce his bid for governor in mid-July.
Look for state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, to join the race on Wednesday. State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and Chicago money manager Bruce Rauner have already announced their candidacies.
In other election news
Will County Auditor Duffy Blackburn announced last week he wants to be the Democratic nominee for Illinois comptroller in 2014. Current Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka is expected to seek re-election.
Tops in the nation
We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1!
OK, so maybe this isn’t something to trumpet, but Illinois is No. 1 when it comes to its deficit.
According to Auditor General Bill Holland, Illinois ended 2012 more than $46 billion in the red. The next closest state was New Jersey with a little over $40 billion in what the bean counters call negative assets.
Massachusetts is third at negative $24 billion, followed by California, which had about $18 billion of red ink. The only other state in the negative column was Connecticut.
Texas, on the other hand, is listed as having $101 billion to the positive. Alaska and Florida also have healthy balances on hand.
With the 2014 campaign season heating up, you can bet Republicans will be flashing these numbers around as a way to gin up opposition to the Democrats who control state government.