* Gov. Pat Quinn has set yet another hard deadline for pension reform action…
“I was encouraged by the fact that [House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton] agreed to have a conference committee,” said Quinn, who met with legislative leaders Wednesday morning.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the members of the Legislature understand that this is not going away. If on the 9th of July they haven’t done their job, they’re really letting the people of Illinois down.”
It’s a tall order, considering members of the 10-member, bipartisan committee will be starting fresh on a compromise never reached during the Legislature’s regular session that ended with Madigan’s savings-focused plan being trounced in the Senate and his refusal to call Cullerton’s rival, union-backed plan.
Let’s see… the end of January’s lame duck session was a hard deadline. The end of spring session was probably also a hard deadline for Quinn. Maybe even before spring break. It’s just too nice of a day today to bother looking up the links.
Anyway, back to the coverage.
* The conferees…
Legislative leaders named the members to the committee. For the most part, the appointees reflect the views of those who appointed them. House Speaker Michael Madigan named Chicago Rep. Arthur Turner, Riverside Rep. Michael Zalewski and Northbrook Democrat Elaine Nekritz, who has been a key player in pension talks thus far. “I think it has the potential to be different because we’re just in a different position than we’ve been in throughout this long journey, this arduous journey,” Nekritz said. “We’re a lot further down the road than we have been in the past, and I think that there is a … desire to come together to get a compromise. I can say that from the House’s perspective, and I believe that to be true of the Senate, as well.” House Minority Leader Tom Cross tapped Naperville Rep. Darlene Senger and Quincy Rep. Jil Tracy.
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno chose Palatine Sen. Matt Murphy and Bloomington Sen. Bill Brady. Senate President John Cullerton appointed Evanston Sen. Daniel Biss, Chicago Sen. Kwame Raoul and Aurora Sen. Linda Holmes. Biss, who sponsored Senate Bill 1, is the only choice that stands out as not sharing similar views on the issue as the leader who appointed him.
However, Biss acknowledged today that compromise is needed, calling SB 1 “dead” and “gone.” “I think everything has to be on the table. I think we need to walk into this with the openness and flexibility that comes with not having bright red lines and not having nonstarters,” Biss said. [Emphasis added.]
Hopefully, the train is finally starting to move faster than one mile a year.
* More optimism…
Cullerton, who had been at loggerheads with Madigan over competing pension proposals, gave a backhanded compliment to the speaker — a longtime friend and colleague — for agreeing to form the conference committee after initially dismissing it out of hand on Friday.
“Now we have a conference committee that the speaker’s agreed to do rather than just insist that we keep on voting on his bill, and that’s a very positive step,” Cullerton said, adding that the process opens the door to “new ideas.”
* Even MJM was sounding optimistic notes…
In an exclusive interview in his expansive Springfield office, House Speaker Michael Madigan also seemed to indicate that this might be the time for compromise.
“We both resolve that there must be a bill. That is a significant first step. Having done that, now we move to where the compromises will occur, what kind of concessions can be taken from each side,” said Madigan.
* I asked Jay Levine at CBS2 to post the full interview with Madigan. He did. Many thanks. Have a look…
* But not everyone was joyful…
“The initial reaction [in the legislature] when Quinn suggested it was kind of eye-roll, ‘are-you-kidding’ sort of thing,” said Kent Redfield, an emeritus political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield. “But then, I think the reason it got done was that people looked at it and said, ‘If we do this, then it looks like we’re doing something. And we can present it as we came to town and we did something.’ It’s very symbolic. I think that it is basically a way to buy time and to play to the external audiences, which are editorial boards, average citizens and the bond [rating] houses.” Illinois’ credit rating was downgraded twice in the first week of June after lawmakers failed to pass pension changes in the regular session.
Cullerton says he thinks the committee is a step in the right direction, but will it be the final push needed to pass a comprehensive pension fix?
CULLERTON: “No, not the fact that we have a conference committee. That was the governor’s request and just another way of getting to a vote for a bill.”
* It also takes about two weeks to do an actuarial analysis. So, if they want to vote on a bill and know what they’ll be getting, they’ll need to wrap things up in less than a week. Doubtful, to say the least…
Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook, a conference committee member and the leading House Democrat on pension matters, cautioned that if any agreement is reached, it could take weeks to run the numbers on potential savings to the state.
“Part of reaching a compromise is knowing what (a proposal) does,” Nekritz said. “I would hesitate to go to (Madigan) and say, ‘This is the deal but I don’t really know what it saves, I have a guess.’ And I don’t want to go to the people of the state of Illinois and say that. So, it’ll take some time.”
* And here’s where we finally get to the question. From WBEZ…
The pension crisis in Illinois is dire. Politicians routinely use strong language when they talk about it. Consider the following:
“We all look like idiots.” - Rep. Daniel Biss, D-Skokie.
“Finances in the state of Illinois are a train wreck.” - Dick Ingram of the Teachers Retirement System
“It’s a catastrophic failure of leadership.” - Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont […]
All this talk has us wondering: Are there any adjectives left we can use to describe how bad this pension situation is that we aren’t already desensitized to? Any fear-inspiring idioms or cliches left out?
That’s where you come in. Fill out the Mad Lib-inspired form below to tell us how you’re feeling about the Illinois pension crisis. We’ll do a dramatic reading of some of your responses on-air.
* I touched up one of their Mad Libs for our purposes…
Without a compromise, I’m __(emotion)___ that Illinois will be worse off than a __(noun)__ in a __(location)__. If lawmakers don’t agree on a plan by July 8th, then I will __(verb)__.
* The Question: Fill in the blanks? And please, please, please keep it super-clean. Thanks!