By Jayette Bolinski | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers will be back here in August to hammer out the pension reform they failed to address by the end of their regular session in May.
The price tag for the special day of meetings — including legislative per diem, mileage and staff costs — could run taxpayers more than $40,000, according to estimates from past special sessions.
At least one lawmaker finds that ridiculous. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, after learning that Gov. Pat Quinn summoned all lawmakers to the statehouse for a costly special session Aug. 17 to consider pension reform, asked the governor to rethink the plan.
Cullerton said that, instead, he will call the Senate back for a regular session that day, which, by state law, makes lawmakers ineligible to be reimbursed for travel costs. If the governor calls a special session, taxpayers foot the bill for the travel costs.
“I share the governor’s interest in resolving the lingering pension issues, but it makes no sense to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars when there is an easy, no-cost alternative,” Cullerton said.
Legislative leaders met several times this summer in Chicago to come up with a pension-reform plan, after a proposal fell apart in the House in the final hours of the regular legislative session. Shifting suburban and downstate school pension costs from the state to local school districts was a sticking point for some legislators.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, already called representatives back on Aug. 17 to vote on possibly expelling indicted state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, from the House. Madigan reportedly told union leaders he intended to call a pension vote.
Illinois’ current budget is $33.7 billion, and 15 percent of that goes toward pension costs. The unfunded liability stands at $83 billion.
The two Republican legislative leaders — Sen. Christine Radogno of Lemont and Rep. Tom Cross of Oswego — issued a joint statement, saying they support comprehensive pension reform “that solves the major crisis facing us today.”
“The time to act has been upon us,” their statement reads.
We Are One Illinois, a consortium of unions representing state workers, posted on its Facebook page Monday afternoon that employees should tell their legislators to oppose any pension-cutting bill.
It is unclear if Quinn will require lawmakers to convene until they pass a reform measure.
“I expect the legislators of both houses to be there,” he said Monday at a meeting of the City Club of Chicago. “I think they understand what the stakes are. This is a chance for all of us to work together to complete the mission. After two months of study, it’s time for action. This is urgent.”
Jayette Bolinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.