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There is no magic wand

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2012

* It’s so nice to see that Gov. Pat Quinn is now fully subscribed to the Tribune editorial board’s notion that all you have to do is wave a magic wand and hurl personal insults and the Illinois General Assembly will obey one’s every command

The third Friday in August should be a good day to get a tee time in Illinois. Gov. Pat Quinn just called Illinois lawmakers off the golf course and back to work that day to save the state from a fiscal collapse.

The governor said Monday he has called a special session of the Legislature on Aug. 17 to deal with pension reform. That’s good.

There were two things, though, that Quinn didn’t say.

He didn’t say he will use the next 16 days to press Republican and Democratic leaders for a deal on pensions, so the rank-and-file will have something to approve at the special session.

He didn’t say he’ll call another special session on Aug. 18, and another special session on Aug. 19, and another one every single day until the Legislature puts real, substantial pension savings into law.

We asked the governor to call a special session and applaud him for doing so. But that action guarantees only that lawmakers will have a reason to hang around for a day and go see Cheap Trick, the headliner at the State Fair that Friday night.

Actually, Quinn did say that he plans to use the next several days to publicly push the General Assembly to heel

“I think the way to look at it over these next couple of weeks is for the people of Illinois to put pressure on the legislature — their members of the legislature that are running for office in campaigns across Illinois … and I think this is a good time to say that, ‘This is a crying need of our state. We must act.’ “

* Ty Fahner is not on board, however

While the governor’s critics lauded him for taking the initiative and stopped short of ridiculing his move as a political stunt, virtually no one in or around the Capitol buys into Quinn’s apparent thinking that such a quick fix may be in the offing to a problem that took decades to create.

Instead, the emphasis is on the House and its uncertain plans for a watered-down pension-reform bill that passed the Senate in late May. If the House passed that proposal, it would generate headlines that the governor and General Assembly finally were addressing the pension problem, but the approach would fall well short of totally winnowing down what government employees have been told to expect during their retirements.

“It’s a great piece of politics, and beyond that it doesn’t do anything useful,” Tyrone Fahner, president of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, said of Quinn’s special-session push if the emphasis strictly is on taking up the Senate-passed plan and having it fail.

“It’s shameful if that’s what the game is,” said Fahner, whose group has pushed a variety of more comprehensive pension reforms.

* Shades of Rod? Some, yes

The situation Quinn set into motion Monday is not entirely unlike what played out when former Gov. Rod Blagojevich kept calling lawmakers back into special session to bully them into passing a multibillion-dollar capital construction plan that no one trusted him enough to administer. At one point, Blagojevich had 17 special sessions going on at one time and never succeeded in getting what he wanted.

Quinn, of course, is no Blagojevich. He’s used his special-session powers just once before. But his strategy this time, at least now, seems headed for the same result as under his predecessor.

* The Tribune reporters who covered the story don’t share the optimism of their editorial page

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. […]

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. [Emphasis added.]

Calling a special session without first having extensive discussions with the leaders is quite Rodlike.

* More skepticism

Many house members as well as senators are skeptical much could be accomplished in one day.

“Do I have my doubts? Without question. Like anything, it’s a process,” said Sen. Donne Trotter, (D) Chicago. “It didn’t happen overnight. It’s not going to be corrected overnight.”

“I just don’t think in a couple of hours on a Friday in the middle of August we’re going to be able to accomplish the governor’s goal,” said Rep. Lou Lang, (D) Skokie.

“If they can negotiate a deal and ratify it on August 17th, I think it’s possible,” said Roosevelt University Professor Paul Green. “If they start on August 17th, it will be the longest day.”

* And the Republicans would like to see a plan in writing

Radogno spokeswoman Patty Schuh said Senate Republicans want to know more about Quinn’s plan, if he has one.

“We will be available in the coming weeks to discuss it, if the governor has a plan he’s going to lay out there or show us,” Schuh said.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


33 Comments
  1. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 9:45 am:

    As I said yesterday, Republicans have complained bitterly in recent years of not having a seat at the table, of being shut out of the process, of being handed legislation by Democrats for an up or down vote.

    Now, they think its the Governor’s job to come up with a plan and rally the votes for passage?

    “Republican Leader” is an oxymoron.


  2. - lincolnlover - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 9:55 am:

    In their defense, they DID manage to pass their plan in the Senate last Spring. Perhaps it is time for Quinn to be a leader and present his own plan.


  3. - Cassiopeia - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:00 am:

    By now everyone understands that Quinn is not a great planner and tends to just make things up as he goes along.


  4. - JustCurious - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:08 am:

    This bill (HB1447) doesn’t deal with TRS, SURS or JRS, correct? Only SERS and GARS?


  5. - Wensicia - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:11 am:

    It would be a shame if this ends up being an expensive PR stunt and little else.


  6. - One of the 35 - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:16 am:

    So, the Governor does not know how to lead and the GA has no plan. Looks like business as usual for Illinois.


  7. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:16 am:

    @Wensicia -

    It’s cheap PR by Dan Rutherford’s standards.

    Just sayin’

    YDD


  8. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:31 am:

    I agree that some of Quinn’s recent moves are “Rod-like” and he’d be wise to avoid anything that resembles his predecessor. But there is serious pressure on the state to take some kind of meaningful action. Between the editorial boards and the rating agencies, doing nothing is not an option.

    Given that and the Republicans’ cynical reluctance to agree to much of anything (although the Senate GOPs did put some votes on this bill), what else can Quinn do to show he’s engaged? A special session is one of the few unilateral powers that Quinn has at his disposal and he’s using it. Unfortunately, without also convening some meaningful negotiations with all of the leaders, a special session isn’t likely to accomplish anything except more acrimony.

    But Quinn is damned if he calls a special session and damned if he doesn’t. It’s a tough spot, but this move was predictable.


  9. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:32 am:

    I don’t think a majority of the GA is willing to be “led” by anyone on a plan that addresses all pension plans before the election.


  10. - langhorne - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:38 am:

    q: whats your plan, governor?

    a: oh, anything out there is fine. we just need to roll up our sleeves and work together. no, i havent talked to the leader in weeks. but did you see the trib editorial? and the real nice pop i got on tv? people are rallying to the cause.
    —————-
    you dont pass bills w press pops and not talking to people for weeks, then calling a special session. if you dont know where you are going, any road will take you there.


  11. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:39 am:

    Dear Leader Cross & Leader Radogno:

    As you know, every day that passes without pension reform costs $12 million. It is imperative that we enact pension reforms with an immediate effective date on behalf of Illinois taxpayers.

    It will not be an easy task, requiring a supermajority of votes in both chambers: 35 House Republicans and 17 Senate Republicans.

    As a starting point for negotiations, please forward to me your proposed legislation for comprehensive pension reform, in bill form, along with the signatures of 35 House Republicans and 17 Senate Republicans pledging to support it.

    With warmest personal regards,

    I remain

    Governor Quinn


  12. - RNUG - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:40 am:

    JustCurious @ 10:08 am:

    Last time I looked at it a couple of days ago, that was true, only SERS / GARS.

    Who knows if any amendments will be offered in the House? That would be a good way to kick the football back in to the opposite field (Senate).


  13. - DoubleD - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:40 am:

    Glad to see the commercial club and the golden parachute boys will get to keep even more of their money that they can’t share with anyone else…when will they understand that for the economy to recover we need to actually trickle something down…but that’s right the GOP has been drinking that Kool Aid punch for over 30 years and it still doesn’t work for the economy, but is excellent for their personal fortunes.

    I fear the class warfare that our government and big business is promoting.

    As a TRS member I am preparing to fight, vote, and then when my pension is ripped away I will work forever. Thanks again for nothing.


  14. - langhorne - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:41 am:

    i meant the four leaders


  15. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:43 am:

    ===Who knows if any amendments will be offered in the House?===

    No can do. This bill is on concurrence motion. Up or down, as-is.


  16. - cover - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:48 am:

    Rich, since both chambers will now be present on 8/17, isn’t it now possible that an entirely new pension reform bill could appear, be amended onto another bill that’s already gone through all the procedural steps, and be passed by both the House and Senate in that one day?


  17. - Billy - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:51 am:

    At least Double D you have a job. As a retired teacher, having my benefits cut, what do I have?


  18. - DoubleD - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:56 am:

    Billy you have the ability to go back to work…all thanks to the wonderful boys of the Commercial Club who are the sole provider of jobs and economy creation, and lest you forget this they will hold the state hostage and threaten to take their ball and play elsewhere because we will no longer exist without them…

    Does that about sum it up?


  19. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 10:57 am:

    Ty Fahner and his ilk won’t be happy until they have totally destroyed our pension system and taken pensions away from all of us. Those rich fat cat CEO’s are absolutely pathetic. I’m sick of the business “leaders” constantly complaining about government workers. Perhaps they should give up some of their rainmaker bounuses and salaries to help the cause. They disgust me.


  20. - titan - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 11:15 am:

    A while back there was “you have to pass this bill before you can see what’s in it” in DC.
    Are we trying to go one better now (”you have to pass this bill before we write it to put anything in it”)?


  21. - Anonymice - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 11:19 am:

    ==With warmest personal regards,
    I remain
    Governor Quinn==

    PS — Oh, and please make sure it’s constitutional, or we’ll just be deeper in the hole when the courts throw it out. Thx! PQ


  22. - Bill - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 11:23 am:

    If any of this choice stuff passes it will be restrained by the court until there is finally a ruling on its constitutionality. Keep chalking that up that phony 12 million/day number for the foreseeable future no matter what they do. Quinn may have been put on earth to screw public employees but he can’t even do that right.


  23. - reformer - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 11:49 am:

    YDD
    Great job of calling the GOP bluff via the letter Quinn should send Chris/Cross.

    I hope Madigan calls the bill the Senate passed with 14 GOP votes. Let’s see if Cross can come up with his share of the votes or whether he’s bluffing.


  24. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 12:04 pm:

    @reformer:

    If the past is any predictor of future events:

    Madigan will call the bill, and Republicans will vote against it, claiming it “doesn’t go far enough.”

    Madigan will then call on Cross to move his bill, which will be followed by much stuttering and stammering.


  25. - east central - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 12:17 pm:

    The key to pension reform is transfer of the normal costs to local school districts and to universities because the budget load on them will depress future salary increases in general and end of career spiking in particular thereby lowering pension costs. GRF dollars saved by the transfer can be added to the pension funds to make up for the shorting in contributions that occurred during the ramp period. The above changes along with the legislature reliably making the mandated payments over the next 30 years may be close to solving the pension funding problem.

    Passing unconstitutional reductions to pensions is not going to help, but it seems to be a game that must be played prior to the eventual extension of the income tax increase.

    The normal cost transfer is going to be tough and holding all pension reform elements hostage, and more, may be necessary to get enough votes. The governor still has the gambling expansion bill on his desk, correct? This is another bargaining chip. It may not be a bad time to put it all together and get it done.


  26. - titan - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 12:20 pm:

    @east central == The above changes along with the legislature reliably making the mandated payments over the next 30 years may be close to solving the pension funding problem ==

    That is the one thing the GA hasn’t done very well/consistently in the past. How do they fix it without doing that?


  27. - JustCurious - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 12:50 pm:

    Thanks, RNUG.

    I’ve read through HB1447 and I couldn’t find any language that dealt with SERS, just GA members and judges.

    From the ILGA website page for HB1447:
    Synopsis As Introduced
    Amends the General Assembly and Judges Articles of the Illinois Pension Code.

    Is there an amendment I missed? I see no mention of state workers in the synopsis or actual bill.


  28. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 12:50 pm:

    @east central -

    Don’t get ahead of yourself on the tax extension. Not inevitable, and not likely to be a mere extension even if it does happen.


  29. - reformer - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 1:12 pm:

    JC
    Senate floor amendment 2: “Replaces everything after the enacting clause. Amends the General Provision and State Employee Articles of the Illinois Pension Code…”


  30. - JustCurious - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 1:43 pm:

    Thanks, reformer. Much appreciated.


  31. - Joe M - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 3:01 pm:

    Since the Illinois Constitution calls the state pensions a “contractual” relationship, whose benefits can’t be diminished — where is that contract spelled out?

    That contract seems to be spelled out in the Pension Code of the Illinois Compiled Statutes. Can anyone come up with any other place where that contractual relationship is described?

    And in the Pension Code (or contract if we may)of ILCS are sections that define the annual compounded 3% cost of living raise for retirees of the various state pension systems.

    Doesn’t lowering the COLA diminish the benefits spelled out in the “contract” or the Pension Code? If such legislation as proposed so far is passed, then I guess we will find out when the lawsuits reach the courts.

    Also, the “choice” of keeping the compounded 3% COLA - or loosing pay increases counting towards one’s pension/loosing access to state health insurance seems to violate the “consideration” that must be present if changes are made to a contract, under general contract law. A positive must be given to offset a negative. But the choice outlined is the choice of two negatives. That doesn’t seem to pass general contract law of consideration. With that too, I guess we will find out in the courts. Or perhaps someone who is actually in the legal profession has a different insight?


  32. - geronimo - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 3:14 pm:

    It’s interesting that Cullerton is concerned about the cost of calling everyone back to Springfield. Too expensive. But with the potential legislation of choosing between COLAs and health care, why no concern about the cost of the fight in the courts? Even if the court were to support the legislation, the taxpayer money has still been spent, hasn’t it?


  33. - Former Merit Comp Slave - Tuesday, Jul 31, 12 @ 4:23 pm:

    I make no claims of being as politically savvy as most posters here but does anyone find it interesting that HB 1447 was re-referred to the Rules Committee (or is that just SOP after returning to the house with Senate amendments attached?) Also HB 6204 was filed on 7/19 which, among other things, shifts teachers pensions back to the districts? And two co-sponsors were added on 7/27……


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