SPRINGFIELD — Although there are no signs that a fix for the state's $97 billion pension mess is on the horizon, Gov. Pat Quinn is nonetheless calling the General Assembly back to the Capitol for a special session in two weeks.
Just hours after Moody's Investors Service downgraded the state's credit rating — following a similar downgrade by Fitch Ratings earlier this week — the Democrat from Chicago said he wants lawmakers to return June 19 to take action on reining in the cost of the state's employee retirement systems.
"Time and time again over the past two years, I have proposed, asked and pushed members of the General Assembly to send me a comprehensive pension reform bill," Quinn said in a statement. "Time and time again, failure to act by deadlines has resulted in the bond rating agencies lowering our credit rating, which hurts our economy, wastes taxpayer money and shortchanges the education of our children."
The governor is hopeful that the downgrades, which can affect the state's ability to borrow money, are enough to loosen the stalemate between House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.
Lawmakers are skeptical of the governor's move, which came just five days after the House and Senate adjourned for the summer without putting a pension overhaul in place.
"I'm not sure what dynamics have changed in this pension reform discussion," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont. "Clearly there is a rift amongst Democrat leaders. Despite their super majority status, they missed a prime opportunity to enact comprehensive pension reform."
State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, said he had to cancel plans for a vacation when he received word Thursday that a special session was being scheduled.
"I realize this is my responsibility and I will do it. But this is kind of ridiculous," Jacobs said. "I'm really not interested in going back to the Capitol unless there is a solution at hand."
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown did not directly respond to questions about whether there was an urgent need for lawmakers to return before an agreement was hammered out.
But, he said, "We'll attend. The House will convene. We remain committed to trying to work on the pension problem. We've been doing that for four or five years. We'd like to see it resolved."
A coalition of labor unions backing a proposal approved by the Democrat-controlled Senate urged the House to take up the measure, even though analysts say it saves far less than a competing version back by Madigan and approved in the House.
"Moody's rating downgrade makes clear that the House of Representatives must act swiftly to finish the work of sound pension reform the Senate has initiated," noted the We Are One coalition, which includes unions representing state workers, public school teachers and university employees.
The downgrade also became fodder among those seeking to unseat Quinn as governor in 2014.
"This week has been a disgraceful reminder the current state leaders have unfinished business on pension reform," said Republican state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who announced his plan to run for governor Sunday. "There is an obvious lack of leadership in our great state."