Quinn creates web campaign for pension reform as legislator says the issue can wait

November 19, 2012

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(WBEZ/Tony Arnold)
Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn surrounded himself with 18 children on Sunday to introduce a new internet campaign about the state's underfunded pension system.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is launching an internet campaign stressing the importance of pension reform. It comes as some lawmakers say there’s no rush to pass any changes to the pension system.

Surrounded by 18 fidgeting children, Quinn told reporters that the state’s $96 billion in unfunded pension liabilities needed to be addressed for the sake of the kids’ future. Calling the campaign “Thanks in Advance,” Quinn said pension reform is the most urgent issue of our time at the news conference.

Legislative leaders have said the General Assembly should address pensions in January, right before the new class is sworn in.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, who chairs the House Personnel and Pensions Committee, said that when the legislature does approve pension reform, the plan won’t go into effect right away. She said legislators have until the end of the fiscal year at the end of June to act and they don’t necessarily have to pass reforms when they meet in January.

“The pension systems themselves don’t want anything implemented in the middle of a fiscal year. And legislatures don’t like to act too early, so I still think that spring is a very likely time for us to be doing this as well,” Nekritz said.

Nekritz, a Democrat from Chicago’s North suburbs who won re-election last week, also said she doesn’t think it matters whether the new General Assembly or the current one takes up the pension changes. Democrats made big gains in both the State House and the State Senate and are scheduled to be sworn in on January 9, 2013.

“I’m assuming that most people we’re hearing out on the campaign trail, whether they’re incumbents or new folks, get that pension thing resolved and so I don’t know that it makes that much difference whether it’s the old General Assembly or the new General Assembly,” she said Friday.

But Gov. Pat Quinn repeated his claims that he wants the legislature to address pension reform quickly.

“I don’t think the people and children of Illinois should wait,” Quinn said. “It’s time to act.”

Quinn also reiterated his support for the so-called ‘cost shift’ proposal, which would require local school districts to help pay for the cost of teachers’ pensions. Republican leaders have criticized the idea, saying school districts couldn’t afford to take on the added costs without raising property taxes. Last week, Republican House leader Tom Cross said he and Quinn share a lot of common interests on the pension issue.

“It’s not confusing. I favor that (the cost shift),” Quinn said Friday at a separate news conference. “I think it should be done that everybody who is involved in government when they negotiate a contract should have a stake in having to pay for the pensions that are part of the contract.”