Governor Pat Quinn has been warning state of Illinois lawmakers that failure to pass a comprehensive pension reform bill during the recent “special session” would have what he called “consequences.” The nature of the “consequence” was that Governor Quinn issued a line-item veto of House Bill 214 to suspend pay for Illinois state legislators. At a packed press conference yesterday in discussing the line-item veto, Governor Quinn said “This is an emergency.”
As if with emphasis, he added “This is a crisis.”
“We want to have an alarm bell for our legislators so they understand this is an emergency that deserves their undivided attention,” the Governor said at the press conference. “They need to have the alarm bells ringing in their ears. The best way to do that is to hit them in the wallet.”
Governor Quinn said during the press conference that lawmakers act when they want to act and contended that when “powerful special political interests set deadlines, the legislature is quick to act.”
“It’s interesting when Commonwealth Edison sets a deadline for the legislature, they hop to it,” Governor Quinn said. “When the National Rifle Association sets a deadline for our legislature, they’re right on it. But what about the taxpayers? What about the people?”
Critics say that the action is politically motivated, in that Governor Pat Quinn will have at least one Democratic primary opponent, possibly two.
The announced candidate, Bill Daley, who has formed an exploratory committee to run for governor simply sent a tersely worded statement “It is obvious to everyone by now that this governor is long on press conferences and short on results. This media sideshow doesn’t get things done, in fact it stands in the way.”
The other possible Democratic primary candidate, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, is in a more complicated position. As Illinois Attorney General she is being asked about the legality and constitutionality of such a move. Not doing anything would be shirking the responsibilities of the office. Taking action on the veto could have negative political ramifications for AG Lisa Madigan, putting AG Madigan in position of not supporting responsible pension reform.
Her father, Speaker of the Illinois House Michael Madigan issued a statement that sounded supportive of the governor’s action, saying that he understood the governor’s “frustration” and ending the statement with “I am hopeful his strategy works.”
Senate President John Cullerton was not so kind to Governor Quinn’s action, saying that the actions were “unproductive” and “political grandstanding.” Speaker Madigan and President Cullerton have competing pension reform bills and have been at odds over the specific path of achieving pension reform.
Governor Quinn said that “since taking office I have been pushing for comprehensive pension reform to resolve the state’s worst-in-the-nation pension crisis. Today’s action follows years of legislative inertia on pension reform, while the state’s unfunded pension debt grows by millions of dollars a day.”
“In this budget, there should be no paychecks for legislators until they get the job done on pension reform,” Governor Quinn said. “Pension reform is the most critical job for all of us in public office. I cannot in good conscience approve legislation that provides paychecks to legislators who are not doing their job for the taxpayers.”
In addition, Governor Quinn will not accept his salary until the General Assembly sends him a comprehensive pension reform solution.
Illinois’ pension crisis was created over 70 years of fiscal mismanagement by previous governors and legislatures. Since taking office, Governor Quinn says that he “has worked to restore fiscal stability to the state, making the full pension payment each year and reducing the state’s discretionary spending to historic lows.”
Governor Quinn’s efforts to enact pension reform include:
• In May 2009, Governor Quinn established the Pension Modernization Task Force, which laid the foundation for pension reform efforts.
• In 2010, despite intense opposition, he fought for and signed into law sweeping pension reform for new hires that are saving billions of dollars.
• In January 2012, the governor convened a legislative pension reform working group to develop a solution.
• Three months later, he proposed a comprehensive pension reform plan that erased the unfunded liability and worked to pass this legislation during the legislative session.
• To avoid credit downgrades, Governor Quinn set several deadlines over the past two years for legislators to enact pension reform. Each time the deadline was blown, taxpayers were on the hook for millions of more dollars in pension debt and numerous downgrades to the state’s credit rating. Recently, Illinois’ credit rating was downgraded twice in one week to its lowest point in history, which days ago cost taxpayers an additional $130 million over the life of the bonds, in order to maintain critical infrastructure.
• The governor has called special sessions to address pension reform.
• He has released several studies on the dire impact of pension inaction on education, with Illinois currently on track to spend more on pensions than education by 2016.
• The governor has met at length, numerous times with legislative leaders and lawmakers, and repeatedly asked them to vote for comprehensive pension reform.
• Governor Quinn launched an online campaign to raise awareness about the pension squeeze and urgent need for action.
• The governor has rejected piecemeal and insufficient pension bills that did not eliminate the pension debt.
• During his 2013 State of the State and Budget addresses, the governor again laid out standards for pension reform and throughout the session he pushed for Senate Bill 1, which would have eliminated the unfunded liability.
• In June 2013, the governor proposed a legislative conference committee as a vehicle to break gridlock between the two chambers. He asked the legislative conference committee to act on a compromise that erases the unfunded liability and provides 100 percent funding for the systems by July 9.
Members of the Illinois General Assembly make $67,836 annually, along with additional stipends for leadership positions, both of which were vetoed out today.
“This is an emergency, the taxpayers of Illinois are waiting and there is no excuse for further legislative delay,” Governor Quinn added. “The taxpayers cannot afford an endless cycle of delays, excuses and more delays.”
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John is the author of an award-winning book, the 2010 Winner of the USA National Best Book award for African American studies, published by The Elevator Group, Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots. Also available an eBook on Amazon. John is also a member of the Society of Midland Authors and is a book reviewer of political books for the New York Journal of Books. John has volunteered for many political campaigns. John is an unpaid volunteer and social media advisor at Robin Kelly for Congress.