Lawmakers don't care for Quinn's tone

Lawmakers don't care for Quinn's tone

SPRINGFIELD — While many central Illinois lawmakers didn't disagree with what Gov. Pat Quinn said in his budget message Wednesday, many of them didn't like the tone.

Quinn repeatedly blasted lawmakers for not acting on public pension reforms that he said were urgently needed in order to save the state an estimated $17 million a day.

"What are you waiting for?" he asked the senators and representatives who sat mostly in stunned silence during the 25-minute address.

"It's time for you to legislate," he said at another time.

Here is a transcript of Quinn's budget message. And here is audio from WDWS.

But Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, who was Quinn's opponent in the 2010 gubernatorial election, said the governor "has had five years to lead on a pension bill and he has failed to do so. He can't seem to get that done."

Brady insisted that Quinn hurt his cause with the speech.

"Here was a 'Mr. Rogers' style of lecturing the Illinois General Assembly that I don't think is going to move the ball forward," Brady said. "The support he heard during his exit (from the House chamber), from his own side of the aisle, was minimal. I think people here are tired of his style of politics and governing."

Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, did not disagree with Brady.

"I think there are a lot of people in the General Assembly who have been working on solutions to the pension problem, and for the governor to say that there has been a complete lack of action — when I think there has been limited action out of the governor's office — might set back a solution," Frerichs said. "If he's really interested in getting something done rather than lecturing the General Assembly, it would be good to convene groups together and sit down for the hours it's going to take to reach a solution."

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford said he "supported the governor in identifying the No. 1 issue as the state's public pension systems." But he added, "His style and my style might be a bit different."

Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said Quinn "talked tough" but that he should "put his name on legislation and shepherd it through the process."

"What we've seen in the past is that he'll give a speech, he'll demand action and then no one will hear from him again until it's time for the next speech," he said. "So I don't think there will be much of a positive outcome from today's speech."

Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, said Quinn's tone "made it sound like he was angry with us. I don't know that he necessarily helped himself. But people got the message. Still, I think people have been taking this seriously all along. We're not children."

"It looked like he was talking down to us," acknowledged Rep. Josh Harms, R-Watseka, "but he's the governor, he can do what he wants."

Quinn said in his budget speech that he had met last week with the four legislative leaders to discuss pension issues, although Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said later that she thought "the purpose of the meeting was to say we had a meeting."

House Minority Leader Tom Cross said the sit-down "lasted about 5 to 8 minutes, maybe."

Quinn and three of the leaders waited more than an hour for Speaker of the House Michael Madigan to show, Cross said.

"It was a lot of waiting and then a lot of nothing after that," Cross said. "The speaker had another meeting going on so we kept waiting."

Brady, meanwhile, objected to what he called a "cost shift" to property taxpayers and tuition payers in the steepest budget cuts — $310 million to elementary and secondary education, and $80 million to higher education — in Quinn's budget.

"It does nothing but shift his failures onto the backs of hard-working Illinois families. I presume this budget is dead on arrival. It should be," Brady said.

But Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said he thought it was Quinn's best speech.

"I give him credit for that," Rose said. "I thought he framed the issue correctly, which is that when the pension payment goes up a billion dollars, something else has to give."

But he objected to what he said were inequitable cuts to education that affected downstate Illinois versus Chicago.

"It's almost a declaration of war on downstate Illinois because he cut school transportation funding to 19 percent, but he increased the poverty grant — the Chicago Public Schools' bread and butter," Rose asserted. "There's gross unfairness in how he attributed the actual cuts. He tore into downstate pretty good."

Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said an increase in funding for public assistance combined with the cuts in education "won't sell very well in my area."

But both Frerichs and Jakobsson said that further budget cuts to education were practically inevitable.

"With the current financial state I think there will be some cuts," Frerichs said. "My goal would be to lessen the severity of those cuts."

"I'm pretty sure there are going to be cuts," Jakobsson agreed. "That being said, I don't know what the cuts will be. He wants to cut K-12 and higher ed while he also wants to make sure that early childhood is funded. That's wonderful, but what are they going to do after early childhood if we keep cutting K-12?

"The important thing to remember is that we get to vote on this. We get to craft our own budget."

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serf wrote on March 06, 2013 at 10:03 pm

I didn't know the IL legislature was such a sensitive group.

outoftownie wrote on March 07, 2013 at 12:03 am

I had a thought about State pensions, and I wanted to send it on to a State Senator, but I am not sure who to send it to. I figured I might bounce it off of this board and see what other people thought.

I view pensions as a benefit for those who don't make much money. It is nice to have some sort of guarantee for retirement. But I also think that pensions have gotten out of hand because school boards like to pad long-term employees with higher amounts, or universities spend higher amounts on administrators. Often times, when a person is close to retirement, their salary is significantly raised to a much higher amount. They do not pay enough into the pension fund to account for this change, and thus get paid much more in retirement than they put in. I am not sure if I remember this right, and I hope someone will fill me in on this but I think it is either the highest 3 years of salary determines pension base, or the last 3 years of salary determines the base. I do know that for every year of work, you can expect to receive 2.2% of your salary in pension, to a maximum of 66% of the pension-determined salary (whatever that happens to be.) In my case, I worked 7 years for UIUC, so I can expect to receive 15.4% of my salary, adjusted for inflation, when I retire at age 62. I am not sure how that adjusted salary is reached. I am certain someone will point me in the correct direction and/or berate me for my ignorance/forgetfulness.

My thought is this: We can do this one of two ways.

1. Take a weighted average across someone's entire career and adjust their pension accordingly. Thus, if you make $40,000 for 27 years, $55,000 for 5 years and $105,000 for 3 years, your pension would be adjusted according to the following formula:

[27(40,000) + 5(55,000) + 3(105000)]/35

This formula would put a weighted pension at a base of $47,714. This would account for all of your contributions and all matching funds. (i.e. you paid in 8% on 40,000 for 27 years, thus the pension would reflect those 27 years over the 8% you put in on 105,000 for 3 years.) This would prevent people from working at a high salary for 3 years and collecting pension based on just that high salary. Of course, this is overly-simplified because people often receive a 2-3% increase every few years, at least on the university level. I believe this is the more fair way of determining and distributing pension funds.

2. Let's put a limit on the amount of salary that can be counted toward contributing to pension. This would continue to allow lower paid workers to have something in retirement without the system being abused by the higher wages it is expected to support. This would be a simpler method to determine pension, but would reduce the amount of funding put into the pension fund. Set a limit for the salary base that could be funded by pensions. Let's make it $50,000. So for this exxample, anyone making less than 50,000 would still pay in their 8% on their salary. But anyone making more than $50,000 would pay 8% on the first $50,000 and then no more. The rest of the money they receive would not put into the pension fund and they would be free to invest that money as they wish. In return, the top base for all pensions would $50,000 and no more. So now a school district could reward a top teacher with a high increase their last few years, but it will not matter for retirement because the top limit is $50,000 for pension determination.

 

My hope is that either one of these implementations would cut down on the abuse of the pension system, keep pensions available for those who need them most (the lowest paid workers who do not have much available cash to invest in retirement on their own,) and help the State of Illinois dig itself out of pension funding debt.

I realize that this might come off as a little complicated, but I also think these pension problems have been equally complicated.

 

Sincerely,

Steve

stopthamadness wrote on March 07, 2013 at 11:03 am

Some good points Steve, the state also needs to stop this, " buying" years of service to pad the pensions. Pretty hard to understand how someone can pay to have years added to their retirement benefits. Take alook at www.openthebooks.com, and see some of  these out of control retirement benefits, the taxpayers get punched with.

serf wrote on March 07, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Steve,

 

Just to keep it short I'll let you know that both of the issues you raise were addressed a couple of years ago with the pension overhaul at that time.  New hires (Tier 2 employees) have their pensions capped and they also did away with 'pension spiking' by taking an average of the last 8 years of salary when computing the final rate of earnings.

Keep in mind that this is an oversimplified response as there are multiple public pension systems in the state.

cretis16 wrote on March 07, 2013 at 9:03 am

WISCONSIN ADDRESS: Speech calls for lower state income taxes. Pension fully funded.

INDIANA: Speech calls for 10% drop in taxes, pension fully funded.

ILLINOIS:?

stopthamadness wrote on March 07, 2013 at 11:03 am

Wisconsin, Indiana have republican governors.

rsp wrote on March 07, 2013 at 11:03 am

If this is too hard for them and none of them can get it together maybe they should all be replaced. They spend all of their time expecting someone else to fix the problem because they really don't want it fixed. They don't want it fixed.