DuPage leaders talk pension with Quinn; solution near, he says
By Susan Frick Carlman firstname.lastname@example.org January 4, 2013 1:16PM
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, introduces State Representative Darlene Senger during the pension reform press conference at the DuPage County Boardroom on Friday, January 4, 2013, in Wheaton IL. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 7, 2013 6:27AM
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and state legislators representing DuPage County expressed hope Friday morning that they’re closing in on a solution to the long-running public pension crisis.
The governor, a Democrat, met with 10 Republican members of the General Assembly who represent the county in Springfield, in addition to County Board Chairman Dan Cronin and Vice Chairman John Curran, to discuss potential remedies for the unprecedented shortfall in the pension system.
“We don’t want $96 billion in liability in our public pension systems. It’s going up by $17 million a day,” said Quinn, who hopes to have an acceptable bill on his desk by midnight Tuesday, the end of the 97th General Assembly. “That is not something that the public wants.”
Addressing the issue will not only stop the bleeding, the governor said; it will free up decision makers to focus on other critical matters, such as public safety, education and public health.
Quinn called the gathering “a meeting of problem solvers” in a press conference that followed the closed-door session.
“I think we’re on the eve of collaboration, where people of good faith of both parties ... come together and do what has to be done for the common good,” he said, commending the comprehensive turnout for the meeting. “I think we saw in Washington, with the debate over the fiscal cliff, that people, in order to solve a problem, oftentimes have to make reasonable compromises, make changes in their original position in order to get an outcome that benefits the public. It was bipartisan in Washington the other night, and it’s going to have to be bipartisan in Illinois.”
The meeting participant who represents most of Naperville, Rep. Darlene Senger, spoke on behalf of the group. Newly elected to a third term in the state House, Senger has been part of a working group in Springfield that is looking at the state’s unfunded pension problem.
The remedy will involve plenty of give and take, she said.
“We’ve talked about this problem for a long time, and we know what we need to do to solve this problem. It’s now basically a problem of politics. That’s the discussion that we had today,” said Senger, who described the meeting as productive.
Quinn noted that some of the pressure on the process was alleviated when Democratic house speaker Michael Madigan agreed to postpone discussion of the “cost shift” element temporarily. School officials have objected to proposals that would require local districts to take on a larger share of their employees’ pension funding.
While the eventual approach will probably entail a variety of elements — curtailing cost of living increases, asking workers to contribute more, and having school systems increase their funding portion most likely among them — the primary concern is making sure the pension system is sustainable over the long term, Senger said. Questions also remain about the risk of a solution being deemed unconstitutional.
Senger said she has had enough of talking about the state’s pension problem and is eager to resolve it before the new General Assembly is sworn in next Wednesday.
“It’s a complicated process, and to start this over again is really not necessary,” she said. “We know what we need to do.”
Former state lawmaker Cronin, who said he and his colleagues in Springfield saw the looming pension meltdown and tried to ward it off years ago, acknowledged that the final route chosen for the pension fix won’t please everybody. He said his tenure in state government taught him to appreciate the value of compromise.
“I know that the enemy of a proposal that is damn good is perfection,” he said.
The proposal discussed Friday morning is promising, said Cronin, who has seen the problem have a ripple effect.
“Illinois’ pension disaster is a statewide problem, not just a Springfield problem. People come up to me all the time and they express their concerns about the pension crisis and ask what we can do about it. They care little about whether or not you’re in the legislature, or the county ... this is a crisis that affects everyone,” he said, adding that despite its top-tier bond rating, DuPage has to pay slightly higher debt service costs, simply because it’s located in the Land of Lincoln.
“It’s called the Illinois effect,” Cronin said. “I don’t want to pay the Illinois effect anymore.”