Quinn: Legislators can no longer delay on pension bill
By Pat Quinn
Dear Illinois taxpayers,
I've always been honest with you.
As I write to you today, it's been nearly two years since I made pension reform the top priority for Illinois. I've been fighting for it ever since.
I convened a pension working group in January 2012 and proposed a comprehensive pension reform plan three months later. I've worked across the aisle, called special sessions, set numerous deadlines and released several studies on the consequences of inaction on education and the economy.
Time and time again, I've met at length with legislators and leaders, and pressed them to vote for comprehensive pension reform.
Yet here we are today.
If I could resolve this by executive order, I would have done it long ago. But I cannot act alone. The General Assembly must do their part and send me a bill that defuses the pension crisis.
Despite my best efforts, the speaker of the House and the Senate president failed to work together to put a bill on my desk. So recently, I proposed a conference committee, a mechanism that historically has been used to break gridlock between the House and the Senate on contentious issues.
The good news is they agreed on this means to the end. But now, it's time for the heavy lifting.
I have set July 9 as the final deadline to come up with a comprehensive pension reform bill that both chambers can support. My staff will continue working around the clock to provide the research and fiscal analysis necessary for members of the committee to get this job done.
Let me be clear: I will veto any legislation that does not erase the pension debt and provide 100 percent funding for the systems.
From day one, this fundamental principle has been at the core of every pension reform bill I have backed. Illinois currently has the worst-funded pension systems in the nation. Any solution that does not turn that statistic around is simply not good enough.
You sent us to Springfield to solve problems — not to dilly-dally with partial solutions.
Now, some in the General Assembly are already suggesting new excuses as to why they may not be able to make the July 9 deadline:
"We need more time to get the numbers right ..."
"We need extra days to negotiate ..."
"The problem took decades to create and cannot be solved overnight ..."
Enough with the alibis!
We've discussed and debated and negotiated pension reform to death.The numbers have been crunched and crunched again.
And taxpayers have been bearing the cost for these excuses, delays and blown deadlines.
In fact, every time legislators have missed deadlines for pension reform, you have paid the price.
Following the General Assembly's failure to send me a bill by May 31, our credit rating was downgraded twice in one week — by both Moody's and Fitch — to its lowest point in Illinois' 195-year history.
The pension squeeze has already forced $2 billion in education cuts and $3 billion in social service cuts. The state of Illinois is currently on track to be spending more on public pensions than on schools, which denies our children their right to a quality education. Not to mention, Illinois' economic recovery is being held hostage by longstanding legislative inertia.
Fortunately, members of the conference committee are very experienced and capable legislators.
I expect them and the rest of the General Assembly to get their jobs done by July 9. The people of Illinois are counting on it.
And one more thing.
I take my oath of office seriously. Public service is about tackling the hard issues, not running from them.
I've been tackling the hard issues since I got here. Many thought overhauling our Medicaid program and reducing the liability by $2 billion was impossible. But I pushed, and we got it done. Many thought closing outdated facilities across Illinois was impossible, but I pushed and we got it done.
Hard is not impossible. And I will continue to be relentless — pushing, prodding and forcing this issue until the General Assembly sends me a bill.
I ask you to do your part. Contact your state legislators today. Call them, email them, tweet them now.
Visit http://mylegislators.illinois.gov to find your legislators' names and contact information. Tell them to support a comprehensive bill that erases the pension debt and provides 100 percent funding for the pension systems. Tell them to get their job done by July 9.
I will continue fighting for you.
Pat Quinn is governor of Illinois.