SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn had claimed he was “put on earth” to solve the nation’s worst pension crisis, but the goal eluded him once again as lawmakers adjourned their session without addressing the $100 billion burden on the state’s struggling economy.
On a marathon final day when several other key measures were approved, including a compromise on concealed weapons, lawmakers couldn’t find common ground on an issue that the governor and fellow Democrats who lead the Legislature labeled as the session’s top priority. They even turned aside a relatively minor fix that would have chipped away at the problem by getting state universities and community colleges to pay their own retirement costs.
“I will not stop fighting until pension reform is the law of the land,” Quinn said Friday after the vote. “But … I cannot act alone.”
Even if Quinn or legislative leaders call a special session to force a new vote on pension reform, the task of passing it this year now becomes even tougher. After May 31, it requires a three-fifths majority rather than a simple majority to approve legislation.
Quinn has pushed a pension overhaul for more than a year, even veering into odd territory when he introduced an animated python named “Squeezy” to emphasize the vise grip that growing pension obligations have on other state services.
“The biggest supermajorities in modern history, the biggest issue facing the people of Illinois in a generation and you failed to deliver,” said Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican. “… The governor is going to bring Squeezy out again tomorrow because you guys couldn’t figure out how to communicate with a supermajority of the same party on the other side of the building.”
Lawmakers spent the final days of session approving medical marijuana; a deal on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking;” a method for legalizing the carrying of concealed guns; and a historic expansion of Medicaid, a key part of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
They also sent Quinn a new $35.4 billion general revenue fund budget that avoids cuts to education for the first time in several years. But they had nothing to show for on pensions, legalizing gay marriage or expanding gambling.
Senate President John Cullerton, whose chamber did approve same-sex marriage and a gambling plan, was at a loss to explain where lawmakers can go from here after years of discussing, studying, and railing against the pension crisis.
“I’ve tried everything,” the Chicago Democrat said. “You’re fighting unions and you’re fighting the business community at the same time. And that’s what’s so difficult. I’m trying to thread the needle.”