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Desperate and weak

Wednesday, Jan 9, 2013

* 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.

* Runner-up

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.

* Related…

* 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

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - just sayin' - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 9:56 am:

    when republicans kept cross and radogno as their “leaders” they made a deliberate decision not to be serious or taken seriously.

  2. - western illinois - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 9:56 am:

    They keep saying Illinois Supreme court but since many retirees are out of state its and interstate contract and under federal purveiw and they take precendent and contracts very seriously

  3. - langhorne - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 10:05 am:

    “the hard work is mostly done”? are you nuts? one chamber passed one bill, covering only two systems. the other chamber is going in a very different direction and refused to call the bill that passed. and now we have a bunch of earnest new faces who believe their campaign press releases. they will have to be brought along. the hard work is mostly done, if you consider 10% to be “mostly done”.

    quinn’s commission proposal was amateurish. it looked like something a grad student cooked up after an all nighter. if i am not mistaken, quinn has yet to propose anything specific (and in writing), much less anything comprehensive and constitutional.

  4. - illinifan - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 10:05 am:

    I know we have separation of powers, but wouldn’t it be helpful to involve former justices in the crafting of a pension proposal so they could provide their expertise as to what may be constitutional? It seems logical, but not sure if it is legal.

  5. - Responsa - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 10:17 am:

    just sayin’–Wow. Did you seriously just post a comment dissing the R “leaders” without also feeling the need to mention the D leadership in the legislature(and I do use the term leadership loosely) of Cullerton and Madigan?

  6. - OneMan - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 10:19 am:

    “put everything out there on the field today”

    Yeah by getting in the game with 10 seconds on the clock and the team down by 20…

  7. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 10:24 am:

    After Noon today -

    For one Session, (hopefully), and One Session Only ….

    “The Big ‘2′ and the ‘Irrelevents’, featuring ‘Two-Putt’ and ‘Jo Galloway’ as… Our Irrelevents!”

    The H & SGOP need to find places where they can put votes on somethng to trade some relevency.

    Otherwise, we will get more of the above posts, with Madigan and Cullerton dictating (yes, dictating!) to Quinn how things can shake down, because Quinn is the “cool” guy wih the Ferrari but is completely clueless as how to drive it.

    Since State Fair, 2012, my fear has been Veto-Proofed majorities for the Dems, the GOP GA members vote for the “Leaders” that led them to that Irrelevency.

    Quinn becomes more and more the “deer in headlights” because the Levers of the Executive are too complicated to wield, and not because Madigan and Cullerton want to be so difficult, but because Quinn puts the Two true Leaders in position to HAVE to take on more of a role than the 1/3 that the Constitution describes.

    If we in the ILGOP get more “wake-up”calls, at what point does the “snooze button” break?

    I will ask again, what changes, since the “leadership” in the Caucuses didnt’ need to change, are the S & HGOP going to make to prove to me and others that politically and governmentally, things will be different?

    Don’t point to 2nd and 3rd Tier Staff “changes”!

    Substantial, real changes in how you Caucuses plan to do your Business. Substantial!

    And while we are at it. where o’ where is this “review” that Pat Brady was going to do on the 2012 Gutting of the ILGOP? Where is it? What does it say?

    “It was just a bad year”, “We, golly, tried real hard!” “We made lots of phone calls, but it appeared no one came out.”

    If you are part of the Senior Politcal Staffs of either Caucus, this day should make you think about the failures, and why the Dems are better.

    Do all of us in the GOP a huge favor: Study 1996 HDems.

    Learn it. Recruit like it. Field Operations that mirror it!

    Desperate and Weak is too true Rich. With the GOP in the GA “aiding and abetting”.

    Make the changes necessary, GOP in the GA. Give us hope, instead of continuing governmental and political paychecks for those responsible.

    Pat Brady. Call me … Maybe.

  8. - reformer - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 10:24 am:

    On Nov. 6th, 56% of legislative seats (99 out of 177) were uncontested. Consequently, those candidates who were guaranteed victory didn’t have to make pension promises to win. They are all from safe districts.

  9. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 10:26 am:

    Squeezy rules.

    Only Godzilla, Mothra and the Midwest Patriots Militia can beat him now.

  10. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 10:33 am:

    ===On Nov. 6th===

    OK, now add that to the number of contested primaries and tell me what you get.

  11. - RNUG - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 10:35 am:

    I don’t know where to start. Both bills have some questionable stuff in them.

    If the stories and comments I’m been reading are accurate, the public saw right through the commission idea. Probably best to dump that idea permanently.

    If they stall until ‘Maag’ gets decided, then we’ll have a better idea if Cullerton’s “choice” idea passes muster.

    Maybe the best approach to do something immediately would be to take the items out of both bills that both sides agree on and create a new bill. It would just be incremental change but it would be a step forward.

  12. - capncrunch - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 10:36 am:

    “But the four leaders have been here. We know how to pass bills.”

    Could have fooled me!

  13. - Wensicia - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 10:40 am:

    Even Eric Zorn is fed up:

    “I doubt I’ll ever switch parties, but if the GOP could put forth some brave, fiscally responsible candidates for statewide office who aren’t also staunch social conservatives determined to battle abortion, gay rights and public education I could easily be persuaded to vote for change. Because what we have now ain’t working.”

  14. - Jechislo - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 10:46 am:

    Have the Republicans ever put forth a pension bill in either house? I know they’re in the minority and it probably wouldn’t go anywhere, but it would be interesting to see what their solution/proposal truly is. Then all would know their position and they could maybe? become a real part of this process. Hopefully they would keep it constitutional though - this goes without saying.

  15. - just sayin' - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 10:48 am:

    Responsa, yes you heard me.

    Pension reform is supposedly the big R issue. Rs are the ones who whine and complain about the system and the problems on a constant basis.

    But as Rich has noted, Cross couldn’t even line up 30 votes from his own caucus for his own pension reform bill.

  16. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 10:57 am:

    –Have the Republicans ever put forth a pension bill in either house? –

    That ship has sailed. The people spoke and cast the GOP in the GA to the sidelines. There are good folks there who can be part of the game plan, but they’re not calling the plays. Most of them aren’t in the ballgame for a reason.

    Cullerton says he knows how to pass bills. He and MJM could sit down with Quinn and do the heavy lifting in a matter weeks if they wanted to.

    I can’t imagine why they won’t. Any reason for this new GA to stick around until the end of May, other than getting away from home and collecting per diems?

  17. - inker - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 11:10 am:

    All four pension systems have to be covered in the new legislation. I hope there will be something positive coming forward.
    They have to stop talking the talk and walk the walk. Otherwise the state will go bankrupt.

  18. - Responsa - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 11:10 am:

    ==yes you heard me. Pension reform is supposedly the big R issue. Rs are the ones who whine and complain about the system and the problems on a constant basis.==

    Oh, well then I apologize and stand corrected. See, I have apparently somehow been under the mistaken impression from loyally reading CapitolFax that our state government is bankrupt and can’t possibly pay its current bills and future obligations and that fixing that situation is kind of a large, all-encompassing and necessary bi-partisan project. Sorry!

  19. - illinifan - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 11:35 am:

    All FIVE pensions should be in the bill. What is constitutional for us would therefore be constitutional for the judges.

  20. - Crime Fighter - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 11:44 am:

    When I saw the headline “Desperate and Weak” the first thing that came to mind were our rank and file public service workers and retirees.

  21. - Calico Jim - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 12:06 pm:

    The judges belong in any pension reform bill. Retired judges as a group probably have the largest pensions of all retirees. So the GA says to the people of Illinois “we badly need pension reform but not badly enough to make those with the biggest pensions be a part of that reform. Disgusting.

  22. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 12:18 pm:

    Calico Jim - more like “we badly need pension reform but not badly enough to make those with the biggest pensions, and the most power to control the destiny of the reform, be a part of that reform.

  23. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 1:09 pm:

    with apologies to Dave Barry, “Desperate and Weak” sounds like a great name for a band

  24. - George Washington - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 1:20 pm:

    Does the GA really think that not including the judges retirement system in the “reform” will fool them. The judges know that if they say it is okay to diminish any of the other pension systems, the GA will come back the next year and do the same to them.

  25. - Sue - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 2:03 pm:

    No One seems to want to consider my “DO NOTHING ” approach but it really is the answer- The State is under no legal obligation to contribute a specific amount into the Pension Plans- As the supreme Court ruled in its 1995 opinion- The State is obligated to pay the pensions benefits but is under no obligation to fund them- great thinkers over there- Well why not accept the Supreme’s invitation- lets have the GA annually appropriate the amounts needed to fund state government as a first priority and then contribute whatver is left over into the Plans- I even suggest making the temporary tax permanent- We all know this will result in the pension Plans running out of money in the near future especially given the investment prowness recently exhibited by the geniuses responsible for investing the pension funds- When the Unions realize that the funds will run out of money sooner then later they will come to the GA and negotiate a rational deal which will of course include benefit reductions in exchange for the guaranteed funding commitment- In the meantime the legislature and the Governor are wasting their time with the Union crowd who will sue as soon as the legislature adopts anything with a reduction in benefits- so why not put the rest of state government at the head of the money line and leave the crumbs to the pensions- until the State can force the unions into submission with a carried through threat to bankrupt the funds by making smaller annual contributions the pension mess will stay unsolved- It is pathetic the Unions who are responsible for the welfare of their memberships are willing to jeopardize both the welfare of state employees but the rest of stae government as well- We are starving the needs of the state in order to continue the largesse of these benefits- By the way how is it that Governor Quinn hasn’t even come up with health care changes for retirees when he was given the green light a year ago-

  26. - Ruby - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 2:58 pm:

    Sue 2:03pm “By the way how is it that Governor Quinn hasn’t even come up with health care changes for retirees when he was given the green light a year ago-”

    The legality of SB 1313 which contains health care changes for retirees is being challenged in court by the State Universities Retirement System (SURS) and the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS). Public school teachers and community college teachers already pay for most of their retirement health insurance plan premiums. We may have a decision on this lawsuit very soon. After the court rules on health care the General Assembly can better proceed with pension funding reform.

  27. - Norseman - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 3:33 pm:

    Sue, you’re betting that when the pension money runs out that the courts will simply tell the retirees that they’re out of luck because the funding has run out and the General Assembly won’t appropriate enough to take of the annuity. Good luck with that. Even in this crazy world, I don’t believe the courts would ignore the constituion and let this occur.

  28. - walkinfool - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 3:35 pm:

    I am so dissappointed that I am at a loss for words as well. Every single leader failed, and all but a score of good legislators did as well.

    Leitch is right; this was a major opportunity lost. I think that lame duck sessions would tend to be more about putting the long-term needs of the state ahead of local or specific interest-group needs.

    But, I am often wrong.

  29. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 3:58 pm:

    @ Steve Schnorf, I have the phrase “Desperate and Weak” going in my head to the tune of “Precious and Few” by one-hit wonder band Climax, and I will never forgive you.

    @Sue, in the event of a monetary crisis, the state has the power of taxation as well as somewhat liquid assets worth billions that it could use in time of crisis if it came to that point. Bondholders and constitutionally protected pensioners WILL have first dibs at the carcass, if there is a carcass. No one has missed a pension payment yet, as some have pointed out in more underwater times (percentage-wise at least) than these.

  30. - Sue - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 4:56 pm:


  31. - Sue - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 4:58 pm:


  32. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 5:22 pm:

    Miss All Caps - One of the problems is that many of the affected are current retirees and survivors, who aren’t paying union dues, and whom many never did pay union dues, and you are suggesting an organization bargain away their (likely) constitutionally protected rights. For those currently working, and represented by a union, I agree that the ultimate solution will likely contain some form of increase in contributions and service considerations, but dancing right up to the edge (and no further) of what the constitution allows. And as Cullerton said, the funding problem was worse in 1970 when the Constitution was writ. Some things that are not “writ in stone”, like the pension ramp legislation, could be tweaked to provide more reasonable achievement metrics. I suppose there is always the potential of a Constitutional amendment to give more flexibility to the solution, but recent history (20 year con-con and pension enhancement amendments) doesn’t bode well for that approach.

  33. - RNUG - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 5:34 pm:

    If we want to go off into hypothetical land …

    Normally, state officials have immunity from suits for “official acts”. If it could be proven that state officials DELIBERATELY pursued such a course of non-funding with the INTENT of creating such a crisis / “bankruptcy”, would said officials still have immunity from suits for their “official acts” or would the courts decide such activity had risen to a criminal level and possibly opening them to personal lawsuits?

  34. - Flan - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 5:49 pm:

    I find it hard to believe that cutting pensions for working folks is “tough”. It hasn’t stopped CEOs from doing it without cutting their own golden pensions. Putting the members of the General Assembly on the same plan as other state employees would be a “tough” vote I’m sure, since they would lose a great deal of money. Let them make that “tough” vote first, then cut their own along with everyone else’s pension and see how tough it feels.

  35. - Old and In the Way - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 6:16 pm:


    The big problem with your plan is that the debt and commitments are prioritized by law and the constitution. Bottom line? The bond holders and pensioners are first in line.

  36. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 8:11 pm:

    Sue, I have many thoughts on the pension situation, some not printable under Rich’s rules, and others probably of little value. I will share one.

    Perhaps the GA and the Governor could re-look at what problem they are trying to solve. Right now they are defining the problem by the answer they are looking for; a system, 100% funded by 2045, meeting the proper accounting standards, and resulting in an affordable annual payment for the State.

    Perhaps there might be more options if they stated the problem as a system that, for the cost of an affordable annual state appropriation, can meet it’s obligations to retirees for the foreseeable future, and provides the ratings agencies with sufficient confidence in the State’s finances, and that is constitutional.

    I believe there have been sufficient tools identified over the past few years to accomplish that.

  37. - western illinois - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 9:25 pm:

    steve scnorf has hit it for states 80% is considered OK I dont see why 70% wouldnt be OK
    A serious constituational swap would be a 2 % increase combined with a choic of 3 per cent or chained CPI and a decicated NEW funding source to help like say CASINO revenue. insetad of Tax shift the state pays nothing for anyone of 100K at retirement ex their direct employees . There would be a teir 2 fix and an imoverished retiree fix

  38. - RNUG - Wednesday, Jan 9, 13 @ 9:53 pm:


    you hit the nail on the head about defining the problem first

  39. - onceadeomocrat - Thursday, Jan 10, 13 @ 8:20 am:

    Call it what it is, pension cuts not pension reform……..

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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* US Senators fault federal settlement with ......
* US Senators fault federal settlement with ......

* 2 candidates file paperwork to challenge U......
* Syrian refugees become issue in Illinois S......

* Illinois REALTORS® in vanguard of those building successful RPAC effort
* Ground-Breaking News! Zoning Committee Votes To Approve Maryville Development
* Youth & Sustainability Community Day on Thursday
* General Assembly Leadership meets to discuss late state budget in Gov Rauner's office
* Sheridan Park Neighbors Meet Up & Social, December 2nd
* Brookfield changes home inspection ordinance for resale
* Chicago Mayor fires Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy over McDonald shooting debacle
* Report: CTU To Hold December 9 Strike Authorization Vote
* Chicago To Expand Police Body Camera Program
* Protest Outside Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Office After Firing Of Police Chief Garry McCarthy

* Emergency Management Officials, National Weather Service Encourage Winter Preparedness - November is Winter Weather Preparedness Month in Illinois
* Keep Your Family Safe This Winter - November through February are leading months for carbon monoxide related incidents
* Governor Takes Bill Action
* Illinois Department of Labor Director Hugo Chaviano Awards Governor’s Award for Contributions in Health and Safety to the Illinois Refining Division of Marathon Petroleum Company LP
* State Regulator Elected Treasurer of Interstate Medical Licensure Compact

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