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House committee approves Quinn’s ‘desperate Hail Mary’ on pensions

State Rep. Randy Ramey

State Rep. Randy Ramey

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Updated: February 10, 2013 6:14PM

SPRINGFIELD — A House panel gave a reluctant sign-off Tuesday to a last-ditch plan by Gov. Pat Quinn to salvage some semblance of pension reform by advancing legislation setting up a super-committee to sort out the state’s $95 billion pension crisis.

The move — described by one critic as a “desperate Hail Mary pass” -- comes as the clock winds down on the lame-duck legislative session. It also comes after the latest pension plan had died earlier that day in the Illinois House of Representatives.

And with it, the governor took the highly unusual step of personally going in front of the House Personnel and Pension Committee Tuesday afternoon.

“We still are searching for the solution,” Quinn told the panel.

“And it’s time, I think, to realize under this emergency -- where we have a situation where our credit rating is in dire jeopardy, it’s already been downgraded on numerous occasions, we’re looking at unfortunately perhaps another downgrade — we have to take an extraordinary action to help break the gridlock.”

The panel the governor has proposed would be like the federal military base closure commission and stocked by appointees made by the four legislative leaders. It would make recommendations on pension changes that could only be disapproved by majorities in the House and Senate and signed into law by the governor.

Under his plan, the panel would have to make a report to the Illinois General Assembly by April 30.

“It’s something we need to use to move forward in Illinois,” Quinn told the committee.

Pros, cons,

The House panel approved sending it to the floor by a 7-2 vote, but not before House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, politely sliced the governor’s plans to pieces on constitutional grounds.

“When the governor of this state has had the good grace to present a proposal to this committee, we have a certain responsibility to take his ideas and him quite seriously,” Currie said in explaining why she would vote to send his proposal to the House floor.

But then came this from the No. 2 House Democrat: “I have serious reservations ... as to the constitutionality of the program.”

Public-employee unions also lined up against the governor’s plan, saying it was an unconstitutional abrogation of the Legislature’s authority.

“I’d characterize this as a desperate Hail Mary pass,” said Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.

And Rep. Keith Farnham, D-Elgin, said Tuesday afternoon while he favored putting a deadline on pension reform, a date to bring people together around, he had “some questions” about the governor’s plan.

“So I’m not sure yet how I’m going to vote on it. I’m just not sure because what it’s doing is it sets a deadline, but it says if the legislature doesn’t vote on it then it becomes law. So that could be a little bothersome,” Farnham said.

“If it sets a deadline and we have to vote, that’s one thing. But if it becomes law without us voting on it, I think that could be problematic.”

Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, said that while he had not yet read the governor’s plan early that evening, the panel he proposed sounds a lot like the governor’s pension working group Quinn had convened last year. Noland had been part of that group, which hasn’t met since May, he said.

“I would say get the work group together and let us get back to work. We had a good group of people who knew a lot about pensions,” Noland said.

The state senator said he also was open to any and all ideas to fix the state’s pension system, even an “open and vigorous debate on the Internet.” He invited his constituents to email him their ideas at

“At this point we have run out of places to run out of places to run to, and I think we have to turn to the people to help us,” Noland said.

Staff Writer Emily McFarlan Miller contributed
to this report.

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