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Quinn: Pension reform ‘a race against the clock’

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SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will meet with the state's four legislative leaders next week to work out differences on a pension reform effort that failed to make it out of the General Assembly before its deadline Thursday.

By Jayette Bolinski

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will meet with the state's four legislative leaders next week to work out differences on a pension reform effort that failed to make it out of the General Assembly before its deadline Thursday.

It is unclear when, exactly, all lawmakers will be called back to Springfield for a special summer session to approve the reform legislation. Quinn said action must be swift, as a possible downgrade of the state's credit rating is at stake.

"We've got to accomplish this mission, and we don't have a lot of time to do it. It is a race against the clock. I'm going to make that crystal clear to the legislative leaders next week," said Quinn, who took questions Friday from reporters in Springfield for about 15 minutes. "We must forge an agreement. I think we have the elements, we're very close, but we're not there yet."

Before adjourning from the legislative session — the House late Thursday and the Senate early Friday — lawmakers did approve gambling expansion and a spending plan for next fiscal year. But they failed to reform the state's failing public pension system — an issue that was supposed to be Job No. 1 for members of both chambers.

Quinn previously referred to gaming expansion as a "shiny object" that lawmakers should ignore, in favor of dealing with the pension crisis.

The major sticking point for lawmakers, which caused a late and unexpected collapse of the pension reform effort Wednesday night, is the issue of whether some pension liability should be shifted to local government, such as school districts, instead of the state picking up those costs.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat, was in favor of the cost shift, while Republicans, including House Minority Leader Rep. Tom Cross, objected to the shift, saying it would result in tax increases. Wednesday night, just as the House was preparing to adjourn, Madigan announced he had spoken with Quinn and learned the governor, like many Republicans, was not in favor of shifting the cost, so Madigan turned over sponsorship of the legislation to Cross.

Madigan then refused to support the measure, which caused enough other lawmakers to abandon support the measure could not pass.

Quinn said both parties, in both legislative chambers, agree on the issue of accountability, but the question is how to implement that accountability. Lawmakers have to find common ground between both reform proposals.

"All of us acknowledge the core principle that those units of government cannot be free riders. They must have a stake in the cost of their employees' retirement. They can't be able to negotiate the contract and then hand the bill off to someone else," Quinn said.

"The principle is how do we implement that accountability for those units of government. There's disagreement on that. I think that can be negotiated. I think folks can come together and come up with a plan."

Regarding gambling expansion, Quinn would not say if he intends to veto legislation to create five new casinos in Illinois, as well as allow slot machines at horse-racing tracks. Quinn responded only that he wants gaming in Illinois to have ethical oversight, integrity and a lock down on campaign money from gambling interests.

Last year, Quinn threatened to veto similar gambling expansion legislation that passed the General Assembly. Lawmakers, however, did not send the expansion bill to the governor.

"The people of Illinois want to have integrity in their government from top to bottom. That's why we're here. We're here to make sure things are done right and cleaned up. So we're not going to go in the direction of any other place than integrity," Quinn said Friday.

Reporter Jayette Bolinski can be reached at [email protected]

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