Illinois Gov. Quinn Calls Special Session on Pensions

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn issued a proclamation summoning the General Assembly back to Springfield on Aug. 17.
by | July 31, 2012

The already-dim prospects of a deal on public employee pension reform before the November election got tangled up Monday in a disagreement over whether a special session on the issue should even be held next month.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn issued a proclamation summoning the General Assembly back to Springfield on Aug. 17, a move viewed as largely symbolic because lawmakers are no closer to striking a comprehensive deal than when they left town at the end of May.

Given that, Democratic Senate President John Cullerton suggested that it's a waste of taxpayer money to pay lawmakers to come to the Capitol.

If lawmakers are in regular session, they don't get the perk of a daily allowance plus mileage. If the governor calls them into special session, however, 177 lawmakers get to collect $111 a day, plus 39 cents for every mile they drive. That tab could add up to $40,000 a day, according to the Senate Democrats.

Cullerton asked that Quinn rescind the special session order, but the governor refused.

Making the announcement before more than 300 people at the City Club of Chicago, Quinn said that after months of discussions and debates over how to restructure benefits awarded by the state's five public employee retirement systems, "it's time to vote."

"It's time to show the people where the legislators stand on the foremost fiscal challenge that faces Illinois today, tomorrow and forever," Quinn said. "The people of Illinois want action."

House lawmakers already will be in town Aug. 17 to vote on a recommendation to expel Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, who faces a federal bribery charge. But also under consideration for a possible vote that day was a Cullerton bill passed in the final hours of the spring session that would make changes only to retirement benefits for lawmakers and other state employees.

Quinn has called that proposal a "good start." But he said the measure would address only a portion of the state's $83 billion unfunded pension liability. The governor said senators also needed to return to the Capitol to "get the whole job done."

Although Quinn sought to frame his special session call based on hopes for a deal, Republicans said privately that they had not talked to the governor since he had convened the legislative leadership in his office about six weeks ago.

Republicans have adamantly opposed one comprehensive pension reform plan that would affect unionized teachers in every public school outside Chicago. Quinn and prominent Democrats, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, have pushed to have local school districts pick up the bulk of the pension tab now carried by the state.

Republicans have argued that the cost shift to local districts could result in property tax increases for suburban and Downstate homeowners.

The governor has maintained that property taxes would not be affected if the cost shift is phased in over 12 years. He unveiled a new argument Monday, saying the real risk of a property tax increase is if the state is forced to pay an ever-increasing amount of money for pensions, shortchanging the general state aid that goes to local schools.

"If we don't do this, if we don't have this (cost) transfer ... then there'll be less money from Springfield to invest in the education of your district," Quinn said.

Quinn's latest talking points seemed to have little sway with Republican leaders. In response to Quinn, they issued a statement saying they were "encouraged" by the governor's call for a special session but privately questioned if he had the political clout to get a major reform package passed before the election.

(c)2012 the Chicago Tribune

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