* Quote of the day…
The anti-climatic end to the 97th General Assembly had even the powerful leader of the House, Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-Chicago), at a loss for words as he contemplated starting the whole process of pension reform from scratch this spring.
“You know, it’s kinda hard to have thoughts, isn’t it?” Madigan said as he left the Capitol.
Cullerton, meanwhile, defended the governor’s work on pensions, though in a backhanded fashion.
“I think the guy’s done a good job. Now, it’s not his strength passing legislation in the General Assembly. You know that. So, he’s never really been in the General Assembly,” Cullerton said. “But the four leaders have been here. We know how to pass bills.”
One ally of Quinn’s allies said he “put everything out there on the field today” with his press secretary refusing to take the bait on any suggestion the governor played a role in the inaction.
* The Sun-Times editorial page is more hopeful about the future than most…
After their stunning failure, legislative leaders said all the right things about getting back to work. The two main pension bills will be refiled immediately, one by Rep. Elaine Nekritz and Sen. Daniel Biss and another by Sen. President John Cullerton. This time around, notably, Cullerton’s bill will cover four pension systems rather than just two.
Cullerton believes only his approach is allowed under the state Constitution, which protects benefits from being diminished, and we believe his argument has merit.
He proposes passing both bills and letting the Illinois Supreme Court decide which is constitutional. Nekritz said she is open to the idea, so long as it’s cleared by constitutional lawyers. That’s a big if, but at this point it’s hard to see another path forward. More input from the state’s unions also would be helpful.
The only good news is that the hard work is mostly done. The broad contours of a painful but desperately needed pension overhaul are at hand.
All that’s missing is courage.
I think what Cullerton said was that he’d let the Nekritz/Cross plan have a shot at the courts first before his plan could be enacted.
But the hard work is definitely not “mostly done.” The Senate passed its bill, but the House’s bill is way short of clearing that chamber right now. And neither bill has majority support in the other chamber at the moment. What’s required here is leadership, and there’s precious little of that in these parts.
* Speaking of leadership, or the lack thereof, I couldn’t agree more with Mark Brown’s assessment of Gov. Pat Quinn’s last minute gambit to create a commission that could force pension changes into law…
I imagine Quinn’s idea sounds good to some people, taking the power away from the Legislature, and maybe it will sound better to me after a few more months or years of inaction. But springing it at the last minute just looked desperate and weak.
* The Tribune was its usual harsh self…
So the dead-duck session has ended, and the next General Assembly will be sworn into service at noon Wednesday. There is, at this writing, absolutely no reason to think the next Legislature will be more committed than the last to solving this problem.
That’s not really true. As I’ve pointed out before, many of the newly elected legislators are bringing a fresh approach to pension reform, which was an issue in every one of their races. Also, a significant credit ratings downgrade could panic people into taking action. And then there’s the impact this is having on the budget.
* And I’m not so sure this is right…
Rep. David Leitch, a Peoria Republican and former banker, said it was a “gross mistake” to end the session without calling the Nekritz plan for a House vote and added that it might be more difficult to advance the measure in the new General Assembly.
Leitch said the lame-duck session would have been the “ideal time” to move the bill because lawmakers who had one foot out the door could have been persuaded to take difficult votes because they won’t have to face voters again.
“Typically, that’s when you do tough things,” Leitch said. “This is a tough thing. Unfortunately, we didn’t do it.”
Lame duck Democrats are free to vote like Democrats. That’s what happened with the income tax hike, civil unions and death penalty repeal two years ago. This time around, we’re talking about getting lame duck Democrats to vote more like Republicans. Not easy at all, particularly when some retirees are counting on their pensions, and others don’t want to vote for something that could hurt them in any future careers as lobbyists. This was always a super tall order, to say the least.
* VIDEO: Senate leaders’ reaction to pension vote
* Illinois lawmakers adjourn without pensions fix
* Illinois Tries, and Fails, to Fix Its Pensions
* Lawmakers leave with no pension solution
* Pension debate to continue in new General Assembly
* No pension reform for the 97th General Assembly