SPRINGFIELD — Hoping to salvage something out of a failed lame-duck session on pension reform, Gov. Pat Quinn called on the House and Senate to form a special committee Tuesday that would take the business of fixing pensions out of the hands of the General Assembly.
The move came after the Democrat from Chicago acknowledged that a last-minute lobbying effort had failed to generate a more comprehensive solution to the state’s pension crisis.
Under his last-minute plan, he called on the Legislature to form a special eight-person commission that would recommend changes by April 30 to help close a $96 billion hole in the state’s five pension systems.
“We have to take extraordinary action to break the gridlock,” Quinn said during a rare appearance before a House committee to lobby for the new commission.
His testimony to the House Personnel and Pensions Committee came as the House and Senate were unable to advance any significant pension legislation in the final hours of the current General Assembly.
Quinn said continuing inaction will mean less money for public schools, universities and other state programs.
“If we run in place, we lose $17 million a day,” Quinn told reporters earlier in the day. “I think everybody has to redouble their efforts.”
Labor unions said the special pension commission would be ruled unconstitutional if approved.
“I would just characterize this as a desperate Hail Mary pass,” said Mike Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO. “Labor is very, very opposed to this process.”
“It’s beyond disturbing. It punts essentially to an unelected body to make this decision,” said John Cameron, legislative director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union.
The Senate has approved a pension fix affecting the retirement systems covering the General Assembly and state employees, but the House has not taken up that legislation.
A House committee Monday endorsed a more comprehensive plan affecting teachers, state employees, university workers and members of the Legislature, but there was not enough support to bring it to the floor for a vote.
Some Republicans say they will not support a pension overhaul unless it also covers the retirement system for judges, who likely will be asked to decide the constitutionality of any new pension law that might emerge from the legislative and executive branch.
State Rep. Raymond Poe, a Springfield Republican who represents thousands of state workers and retirees, said lawmakers should just wait until the next General Assembly is sworn in at noon Wednesday to begin dealing with the issue of pension reform.
State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, agreed.
“We shouldn’t do something this big in the lame-duck session,” Mitchell said. “It doesn’t negate the fact that we have to do something, though.”
State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said he won’t support any pension overhaul unless it covers all five retirement systems.
“I believe there are some votes to be earned if they change some things,” Brady said. “For example, I think they would get more support if they included all five retirement systems in the legislation.”
The legislation is Senate Bill 1673.