CHAMPAIGN — Gov. Pat Quinn said Thursday that lawmakers should pass pension reform legislation before approving a gambling expansion bill.
Both major issues could be taken up by the outgoing General Assembly in the first week of January, before the new Legislature is sworn in on Jan. 9.
"We shouldn't be doing a gambling bill before we do pension reform. Right now our state has a $96 billion liability. It goes up by $17 million every day," Quinn said while at the University of Illinois for an announcement about construction of a $12 million Center for Wounded Veterans on the Urbana campus. "I would say to all of the gambling advocates, join in on the pension bandwagon, and if we work together, we can all get to heaven."
Quinn said he "welcomed" a pension reform plan offered Wednesday by 21 House members, most of them Democrats, that included bits and pieces from other pension reform ideas, including a pension "cost shift" from the state to local school districts, greater employee contributions and a limit on cost-of-living increases.
"They've asked us to do some actuarial accounting to figure out how much that particular proposal would save the taxpayers, and also reform the pensions system and that's what we're going to do. We have a good partnership going," the governor said.
He said his office has been consulting with the chief sponsors of the new pension bill, Democratic Reps. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook and Daniel Biss of Evanston, "for the whole year.
"I'm hopeful that by the 9th of January we'll have a bipartisan majority in both houses to pass something that means something for the beneficiaries and for the taxpayers. It's a lot of work ahead. It's 34 days," he said.
Quinn vetoed a gambling expansion bill last summer that allowed for five new casinos in Illinois, including one in Danville. It also called for slot machines at racetracks.
At the time Quinn rejected the bill for what he termed "the absence of strict ethical standards and comprehensive regulatory oversight."
Quinn is working with gambling expansion supporters, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, on an all-new bill.
"We're working with all the advocates, folks in Daville and other places, to try to come up with a bill that has strong ethics, top-notch integrity. We've got to have regulation here," he said. "There has to be some tight ethical scrutiny and regulation. The bill I vetoed didn't have that. I think a new effort has to be strong on integrity and the money has to be used for important things, things like education and dealing with other things that are challenging us now."
Quinn called the gambling issue "interesting" but "not as important as pensions.
"So I would say to members of the Legislature, let's eat our vegetables and our spinach first, get the pension reform done, and then they can have the dessert."