Gov. Pat Quinn is forcing legislators to come to Springfield this week to deal with the state's public pension problems.
Members of the Illinois House and Senate are scheduled to meet in a one-day special session Friday to address an issue from which many of them are hiding — the woeful financial status of the state's public pension systems.
Gov. Pat Quinn drew legislators' ire a few weeks ago when he called the special session, and it's not clear if legislators will do anything more than wring their hands before adjourning.
Dramatic action is what's needed, but that's about the last thing legislators are interested in during the run-up to the November election.
Delay, of course, will only make circumstances worse, and circumstances already are bad.
Consider the news that came out of Springfield last week.
The General Assembly's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability reported that the current economic picture is so bad that there will be only marginal growth in state revenues for the fiscal year that began July 1.
Legislators routinely count on increased revenues to help them meet the demands created by their profligate spending. But the commission is estimating that Illinois will collect just $83 million more in new revenue for the current year than the $33.79 billion it collected in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
A booming economy would produce new revenues that would allow legislators flexibility. Conversely, a lagging economy restricts their ability, essentially leaving them with the same amount of money to address growing needs.
On top of that news, Gov. Quinn this week pointed out — again — that the need to provide more money to properly fund state pensions means less money for other vital programs. Indeed, under current circumstances, it won't be long before spending on public pensions and Medicaid consumes the lion's share of the state budget.
That's simply not acceptable. But this year, Illinois is spending more on its pensions ($6.75 billion) than it is on elementary and high school education ($6.2 billion).
Regarding the pension fiasco, there is no doubt where the blame lies. Previous governors and legislators opted not to make the contributions necessary to properly fund the pension systems, choosing instead to spend the money elsewhere.
That's why so many pensioners are angry. They didn't create the problem, they say, so why are they being asked to address it through reductions in benefits?
The pensioners are absolutely right. The problem is that it cannot be fixed without legislation revising eligibility and benefits for pension system members.
So it's a matter of when, not if, the Legislature acts.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, the powerful Chicago Democrat, wants to wait until after the November election. He also wants, among other things, the state to transfer its current responsibility for funding teacher pensions to local school districts. Republican leaders share Madigan's position on a number of reforms but say they are dead set against transferring teacher pension funds to local schools.
Meanwhile, the Senate passed a pension reform bill that affects current state employees and legislators while leaving pension systems affecting teachers and state university employees unaddressed. The bill is good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough.
Madigan has announced he'll allow a House vote on the Senate bill, and it's easy to envision legislators passing it and declaring their work done.
There is no minimizing the seriousness of the state's pension problems, just as there is no denying that it's steadily getting worse. Gov. Quinn has estimated that the unfunded liability will exceed $90 billion by next summer.
One reason the unfunded liability is as much as it is now is because legislators, in fear of offending key voter groups, haven't had the stomach to face up to the problem. Judging by their comments as the special session approaches, their attitudes haven't changed much.
Next Friday ought to be D-Day, but don't hold your breath.