Bill Daley pitches pension ideas as part of bid for governor

June 17, 2013

WBEZ/Tony Arnold
Bill Daley held his first news conference as a candidate for Illinois governor on Monday to pitch how he would handle the stalemate over pension reform in Springfield.

Bill Daley is attacking his Democratic rivals ahead of next year’s race for Illinois governor. His main beef with them: how they’ve handled proposed reforms to the state’s retirement systems.

Daley said incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn hasn’t been a good leader on what many call the top issue facing Illinois: cutting the state’s $100 billion pension debt.

The former White House chief of staff and Commerce Secretary said Quinn should take a page out of the political playbook of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and threaten to veto one of two rival pension reform bills.

“It works if they’ll stand behind it and if the legislators believe the governor will stand behind that,” Daley said.

Of the two main pension reform proposals, Daley said he favored the bill that passed the House of Representatives, but failed in the Senate. That bill calls for a combination of raising the retirement age, cutting the cost of living increases and increasing employee contributions, along with a variety of other proposals. Labor groups and Senate President John Cullerton have said they don’t think the plan is constitutional. Cullerton called it for a vote last month in the Senate, where it gained just 16 votes of approval.

For his part, Quinn has put the onus of pension reform on state legislators, saying he can’t sign a bill if they don’t agree. Quinn called lawmakers back to Springfield on Wednesday for a special, one-day session on pensions. Quinn said last week he is putting a “Herculean effort” into getting senators on board with the plan they rejected last month. It’s not yet clear how successful he has been at getting 20 senators to flip their votes.

Daley also had some choice words for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, saying she should issue a legal opinion on the constitutionality of the two rival pension proposals.

“Let’s get some clarity,” Daley said. “Everyone, we are in a crisis. Everyone has to step up to the plate.”

Daley said if the attorney general doesn’t feel comfortable writing a legal opinion, she should appoint a special attorney general just for this issue.

Daley also rejected the idea that the long-standing disagreement over pensions is a plot to help her become governor.

“I don’t think sending the state into a deeper crisis helps anybody,” Daley said.

Lisa Madigan hasn’t definitely declared she is running for governor. She’s only gone so far in saying that she’s considering a bid.

In response to Daley’s comments, Madigan spokeswoman Natalie Bauer said in a written statement, “The Attorney General is already aggressively defending the state in multiple cases that will significantly impact what the legislature can do to solve this crisis, and for over a year, she has been providing the legislature with legal advice and analysis on the constitutional issues. As everyone is aware, the constitutional questions involved will ultimately be resolved by a court opinion, not the Attorney General’s opinion.”

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.