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Shifting sands

Friday, Jun 28, 2013 - Posted by Rich Miller

* The Tribune recently ran this story about pension reform and Gov. Pat Quinn

During the past 14 months, Quinn has made a dozen or so major pivots on the pension reform issue. He’s also twice called lawmakers into special sessions. So far the state’s chief executive has come up empty while Illinois’ public pension debt is set to eclipse $100 billion by the end of the month.

* A buddy of mine with way too much time on his hands forwarded me the following, which traces the history of the governor’s stance on pension reform. I’ve done this before, but this timeline has even more links for your perusal…

* January, 2012 (Bloomington Pantagraph): Quinn aides downplay cost shift. “Just a concept”

* April 25, 2012 (Daily Herald): Quinn says no hurry on cost shift. Says it’s not “essential” to reform.

    “We want to deal with that accountability principle, but we’ll do it on a separate track,” Quinn said.

* May 30, 2012 (WBEZ): Quinn backs off cost shift requirement in meeting with legislative leaders as House is positioning a vote.

    “I was surprised that the governor disagreed with me on the issue. He agrees with the Republicans,” Madigan said.

* Aug. 7-8, 2012 (Peoria Journal-Star): Quinn and top aides push hard for cost shift, announce special session. Quinn tells Peoria crowd the Peoria schools would be better off with cost shift.

* Aug. 9, 2012 (Illinois Issues): Quinn calls for approval of Nekritz pension proposals with cost shift component.

    “It shouldn’t take that long really. It’s something that everybody’s talked about all year,” Quinn said. “We just cannot postpone this matter any longer. It isn’t an election calendar that we’re looking at here, I think some members may be in the legislature. But we’re dealing with the bond rating agencies.” He said that if lawmakers don’t pass pension reform soon, the state may face a downgrade of its credit rating. “If we don’t act, we’re asking for trouble.”

* Nov. 18, 2012 (Chicago Tribune): Quinn launches a “grassroots” campaign called “Thanks in Advance,” featuring the now-famous Squeezy the Pension Python.

* Feb. 6, 2013 (transcript, via In his State of the State speech, Quinn declares support for Senate President John Cullerton’s Senate Bill 1 – then a hybrid of the “House plan” and the president’s choice model, with the choice model taking effect if the House plan was declared unconstitutional.

    “President Cullerton, thank you for recognizing this, and thank you for your leadership in providing us a path forward through Senate Bill 1, a comprehensive bill that stabilizes our pension systems and fixes the problem.

    And thank you, Leader Tom Cross and Representative Elaine Nekritz for working together on a bi-partisan basis to make sure that pension reform is Job One for this General Assembly.

    I urge all of you to be part of the solution. And while refinements may come, Senate Bill 1 is the best vehicle to get the job done.”

* Feb. 20, 2013 (Chicago Tribune): Quinn shoots down Rep. Lang’s plan to fix pensions by making tax increase permanent, increasing employee contributions and raising the retirement age. The governor also criticized the plan’s 80 percent funding target.

    “We can’t just be meandering along,” Quinn said. He added that lawmakers must move quickly so the state’s economy won’t be “held hostage” by the current “pension cloud.”

* Feb. 27, 2013 (Crain’s Chicago): Quinn endorses Nekritz-sponsored pension reform plan similar to her original but that puts newly hired teachers and university employees in a 401k hybrid.

    From Gov. Pat Quinn: “We welcome comprehensive pension reform proposals with bipartisan support that move the ball down the field.”

* Mar. 5, 2013 (FY 14 budget address transcript, via Quinn claims he must cut school funding by $400 million to pay pensions and outlines his qualifications for “comprehensive pension reform.”

    “As you know, to make up for that failure, we’ve had to issue two pension obligation notes under my administration. The debt service on these notes will expire in 2020.

    Once those notes expire, all of that revenue – nearly $1 billion annually – should be dedicated to the unfunded pension liability.

    In addition, employees should adjust their own contributions to their pensions.”

    “These adjustments should include reforms to the pension cost of living adjustment. The COLA is currently 3% compounded annually. That’s unsustainable for taxpayers.

    For those with higher pensions, the cost of living adjustment should be suspended until the entire pension system achieves better balance.

    The basic pension amount that has already been accrued by our current and former employees should not be touched.”

* Mar. 14, 2013 (Daily Herald): Speaking on the original SB 1, Gov. Quinn says, “That’s pretty fair.”

* Mar. 20, 2013 (Chicago Tribune): After the House plan failed in the Senate for the first time, the governor said, “If we do it [pension reform] together, we’ll be better off.”

* May 1, 2013 (Chicago Tribune): A Quinn spokeswoman calls the House plan, Madigan’s new SB 1 “the way forward.”

    “This is the way forward,” said Brooke Anderson, spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn, who has promoted several elements in the Madigan plan. “This is the fastest way to pension reform.”

* May 2, 2013 (Springfield State Journal-Register): After the House plan (SB 1) passes the House, Gov. Pat Quinn called the vote “the biggest step to date towards restoring fiscal stability to Illinois.”

    “With the passage of this comprehensive pension reform solution, Illinois is closer than ever to addressing a decades-long problem that is plaguing our economy, our bond rating and the future of our children,” Quinn said.

* May 9, 2013 (Chicago Sun-Times): After the Senate passes SB 2404, Quinn says:

    “I was very impressed by the fact that the principles I annunciated more than a year ago for comprehensive pension reform were contained in [Madigan’s bill], and that passed the House last week. And I want to make sure [the bill] gets a vote in the Senate by the end of the month,” Quinn told reporters after a ceremony honoring the state’s firefighters in Springfield.

* May 30, 2013 (Reuters): After the Senate votes down the House plan (SB 1), Quinn says, “The people of Illinois were let down tonight.”

* June 6, 2013 (NBC-5 Ward Room):Quinn calls June 19 special session on pensions.

    “Will two downgrades in one week be enough to convince the General Assembly that our pension crisis can’t be ignored anymore?” Quinn said in a statement.

* June 10, 2013 (Bloomington Pantagraph): Quinn calls for a return to original SB 1-style compromise.

    “I appeal to them to work together to put this priority on my desk,” Quinn said.

* June 14, 2013 (Chicago Tribune): Quinn changes strategies again, turns away from hybrid plan and now calls on Senate to pass House plan it previously voted down.

    “The people of Illinois are frustrated with the failure of the legislature to enact a comprehensive public pension reform bill,” Quinn said following a nearly two-hour long meeting with legislative leaders on Friday. “So as governor of Illinois I am prepared to do whatever necessary to get this bill on my desk. But they are the legislature. They have to do their job so I can do mine. Their job is unfinished. And we’re going to keep pushing them and pushing them until they do their job.”



  1. - Cincinnatus - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 9:08 am:

    18 changes, 18 months. Last change, June 14. Expect next change July 14…

  2. - Chicago Cynic - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 9:11 am:

    All I can think is that they really appreciate the Don Ameche/Joe Mantegna movie, “Things Change”

  3. - Keyrock - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 9:13 am:

    Hey look! A Kitty!

  4. - Mouthy - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 9:14 am:

    Question: So what’s the governor’s plan?
    Answer: I’ll sign anything.

  5. - Jim - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 9:19 am:

    it may be possible that as the facts and political circumstances change, he changes along with them. how many legislators have done the same?
    I just don’t see Quinn as the villain in the pension issue. He can’t MAKE legislators do things that they are too politically afraid to do. The legislature is a separate and co-equal branch of government. So far it looks as if even Speaker Madigan can’t make the GA do what he wants it to do.

  6. - Sqeezy - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 9:19 am:

    Thanks for the mention!

  7. - dupage dan - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 9:20 am:

    Howsabout telling us something we don’t know?

  8. - Small Town Liberal - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 9:23 am:

    Meh, it’s been a moving target. The idea that the Governor could have picked his own plan from the start and everyone would have jumped on board is ludicrous.

    He’s refused to kick the can, made the payments, and demanded that the systems be reformed. That’s a heck of a lot more than our previous Governors.

  9. - Madame Defarge - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 9:38 am:

    This quote comes to mind for Winston Churhill-1936
    “So they (The Government) go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent”

  10. - Cook County Commoner - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 9:40 am:

    Gov. Quinn has done more to bring the issue before the private sector employed electorate than any other governor. Less vacillation and a more forceful presence may have helped, but not to any great degree. The state, local and federal employees control this issue because they are about the last ones in the US who have guaranteed retirement security. If I was in their shoes, this would be my exclusive issue at the polls and for contributions.
    Until the shoe really starts to pinch in the private sector, they control the politicians.

  11. - Archimedes - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 9:43 am:

    Actually, I don’t think the Gov is alone in “changing his mind.” I recall a year ago, in May of 2012 that Madigan pushed hard for SB1673 that had a “choice” (and also included cost shift). I believe Madigan even said the choice component had to be in there.

    Now the unilateral reduction (SB1, amended) is the only way to go.

    Oh well…..

  12. - wordslinger - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 9:52 am:

    I think the takeaway is that Quinn will sign anything to get it off the table.

    He’s a mercurial guy, with a personality more suited to agitation and mixing it up than an executive position.

    But he won fair and square, despite the recent “vote fraud” nonsense from the Usual Suspect Victim’s Club.

  13. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 9:53 am:

    ===recall a year ago, in May of 2012 that Madigan pushed hard for SB1673===

    Correct. Working on that one, too.

  14. - walkinfool - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 10:12 am:

    The gov. keeps pushing publicly for a solution, and strongly supports whatever the latest substantial solution appears to be. He still won’t kick the can down the road. He realizes the solution will not be emanating from his own office.

    I find nothing to criticize in that.

    I just wish he were more effective apparently, behind closed doors.

  15. - RNUG - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 10:14 am:

    Along with the ‘bully pulpit’, the IL Gov’s office is quite powerful … but you have to know how to use the levers of power.

    Quinn doesn’t.

  16. - Hyperbolic Chamber - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 10:22 am:

    He was just covering all the bases so he can say, “Yeah. I supported that from day one.” Only his baseball field reminds me of the version Calvin played with Hobbes. Funny. The Gov. often seems to be alone playing with imaginary friends, too:

  17. - Small Town Liberal - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 10:42 am:

    - Quinn doesn’t. -

    Nonsense. The parrotlike repetition of this talking point is comical.

    This is a hard issue, which is why no one has tried to address it in a significant way until now.

    Quinn has had to make lots of difficult decisions, and it hasn’t ingratiated him with legislators whose idea of economic development is a prison in their district.

    This understanding the levers junk is getting old, especially coming from folks who don’t actually have a clue what it means.

  18. - Norseman - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 11:20 am:

    === especially coming from folks who don’t actually have a clue what it means. ===

    Saying it doesn’t make it true. The problem for Quinn and his sycophants is that the folks saying he’s incompetent have years of experience in government. The Blago/Quinn years of have been a disaster for Illinois government.

  19. - My Thoughts For Whatever - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 11:29 am:

    Why would Quinn be so foolish and box himself in by saying that he will veto any comprehensive presion (reduction of benefits) reform that does not guarantee 100% funding?

  20. - PublicServant - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 11:49 am:

    === He’s refused to kick the can, made the payments, and demanded that the systems be reformed. ===

    “refused to kick the can” - The reason that pensions were underfunded for seven decades was the structural tax deficit “can”. That’s the can that has been, and continues to be “kicked down the road” by both the governor and the legislature. Only when that gets resolved will the real problem be solved.

    I give him credit for making the payments. +1 for your side, STL.

    Credit for making the payments is totally eclipsed, however, due to his contention, supported by his use of the most virulent IPI/Plutocrat unsupported propaganda, that the pensions are the problem. They aren’t, and never were. They’re the victim, as are the state employees and retirees, if any of these bills are passed into law. We will, of course, bring suit. We have no choice but to exercise that right in an attempt to protect both the inviolateness of our state constitution as well as the contracts clause of the US Constitution.

    By the time those lawsuits are heard, Pat will be working for CUB, if he’s lucky. He certainly won’t be governor.

  21. - PublicServant - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 11:57 am:

    By the way, Quinn just got booed as he was introduced at the Hawks celebration. Those are real people out there. I’m pretty sure Fahner, R Eden, and Tillman weren’t in the crowd. I think I saw you cheering though STL, but I really couldn’t hear you, due to the overwhelming booing that was drowning you out.

  22. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 11:59 am:

    ===Quinn just got booed as he was introduced at the Hawks celebration===

    A grand Chicago tradition.

    I remember taking my brother to Blues Fest in the 80s. Harold Washington was booed loudly. The mayor just smiled and chuckled. My brother, who lives in California, couldn’t believe his ears. I had to explain the tradition.

    The only exception to this booing politicians rule I’ve seen so far has been Jesse White, a former Cubs AAA player who was loudly cheered at Sox Park when he threw out the first pitch. Doubly odd.

  23. - Truth teller - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 12:25 pm:

    More than anything, the Gov’s changing positions matches up with what is the “front-running” pension reform legislation at any particular time.

    It’s been pretty obvious for awhile now that something — ANYTHING — gets passed. If you were the Gov, wouldn’t you endorse ANYTHING that has even a sliver of a chance of getting through the GA?

  24. - wordslinger - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 4:00 pm:

    –The only exception to this booing politicians rule I’ve seen so far has been Jesse White, a former Cubs AAA player who was loudly cheered at Sox Park. Doubly odd.–

    Jesse has worked the street fairs and village fests for decades with the tumblers.

    Everyone loves the tumblers. They’re awesome.

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