Down to the wire on pension reform in Illinois

May 30, 2013 

Well, it's here. The final day of the Illinois legislative session. No surprise, lawmakers start the day with the state's No. 1 issue -- pension reform -- still unresolved. The $100 billion question: Will they solve it by adjournment?

They need a solution, but the two sides can't agree on how to proceed. No, not Democrats and Republicans but House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both Democrats. Thursday night the Senate overwhelmingly rejected Madigan's plan; it appears that Madigan will not let the House vote on Cullerton's version.

Gov. Pat Quinn called for the Senate to reconsider when it reconvenes on Friday: "Every lawmaker in the capitol knows what needs to be done."

Every lawmaker knew last year also but they left without acting on pension reform. This year they must reach agreement before adjourning.

The state's pension liabilities are roughly $100 billion now; Gov. Pat Quinn's office says that every day without a solution means $17 million more in costs. It also means that money will go toward pensions that otherwise could be spent on the regular business of government: education, social programs and roads, for example.

If lawmakers fail to act, expect the credit rating agencies to downgrade Illinois again. The state would move closer to junk bond status and away from respectability.

Democrats continue to have a spending problem. The state got a $1.2 billion "April Surprise" in tax revenue this year. Rather than bank the money for a rainy day or use it exclusively to pay down bills, lawmakers used part of it to boost spending for certain programs in the new budget.

Let's hope by the end of the day that Illinois will no longer have a pension problem.

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