By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD — In the end, Illinois got nothing.
Lawmakers, faced with a Wednesday deadline to pass some kind of pension reform, could not find support for an overhaul of benefits and payments. Nor did lawmakers even try to pass Gov. Pat Quinn proposal to have an unelected commission handle Illinois’ nearly $100 billion pension debt.
“This is basically a recognition … that we need a new mechanism or structure to deal with this issue,” Quinn said at a late Tuesday committee hearing.
Quinn’s commission idea got a cold reception from lawmakers who question whether it would work, or whether it is even allowed under Illinois’ Constitution.
State Rep. Eliane Nekritz, the Northbrook Democrat who tried for months to shepherd pension reform through the Legislature, would only say the governor tried.
“There are clearly members who would prefer not to vote on pension reform,” Nekrtiz said. “This is an alternative to that.”
Nekrtiz had worked for months on legislation that would have frozen cost-of-living adjustments for retired public employees for six years, then tweak COLAs to apply only to the first $25,000 of a workers’ pension and made workers wait until age 67 to receive a 3-percent COLA hike.
The Nekrtiz plan was seen as the best chance for pension reform in years, but he could not convince recalcitrant lawmakers, and there was no vote.
State Rep. Dan Brady, a Bloomington Republican who represents a number of current and retired university workers, is waiting for a comprehensive reform package.
“I think it’s in the best interest of everyone that relies on a pension that we go back to the drawing board,” Brady said.
Going back to the drawing board likely means Illinois will have to wait until late May, when the spring legislative session ends, to see a vote on pension reform.
Quinn pleaded with lawmakers to do “something” on pensions “to show the bond houses we are serious.”
Illinois could face another credit downgrade. Standard and Poor’s downgraded the state in August, because of the inaction on pensions.
Illinois’ five pension systems are the worst funded in the nation, with a deficit anywhere between $96 billion and $130 billion.
Quinn said that deficit grows by $17 million a day, or $100 million a week.
But Illinois’ public employee unions, which have fought all pension reform proposals for years, said the answer is simply to find more taxpayer money to fully fund the plans.
Cinda Klickna, president of the Illinois Education Association, said Tuesday said that until lawmakers agree to raise taxes or fees, Illinois’ pension problems are not going anywhere.
“You have legislators who know that there needs to be a revenue increase,” Klickna said. “And you have other legislators who don’t want to engage in that conversation.”
A new Illinois General Assembly will be sworn in at noon on Wednesday and will face the same pension deficit and gridlock as the outgoing legislature.
Watch more from Nekritz after Quinn’s commission proposal.
Gov. Quinn demanding action, but not mentioning commission plan.
Contact Benjamin Yount at [email protected]