Gov. Pat Quinn said today that he'll meet with Democratic legislative leaders Monday to try to find compromise on changes to a public employee pension system that's approaching $100 billion in debt.
The governor indicated he spoke with House Speaker Michael Madigan on Friday to set up the meeting that will include Senate President John Cullerton. On Tuesday, Quinn called a meeting on pension reform but an out-of-state Madigan was a no-show who also did not call in. The speaker's staff indicated that Quinn's team knew Madigan would not be available, but held the meeting anyway.
The three Democratic leaders are attempting to bridge differences on pension changes before a June 19 special session that Quinn has called for following a downgrade of Illinois' credit rating by two ratings agencies this week.
During the spring session, rival reform plans passed the House and Senate but failed to get sign-offs from the other chamber.
House Speaker Michael Madigan pushed through a plan that would require public workers to kick in more from their paychecks, accept a higher retirement age and scale back the size of the state's cost-of-living increases under a 30-year plan to reduce costs by $187 billion and bring the pension system up to full funding. Senate President John Cullerton's proposal saves about a third as much and calls on pensioners to make a choice, such as giving up retiree health care to preserve pension benefits.
Unless the philosophical divide between the House and Senate can be resolved over the next two weeks, it's unclear at best whether a one-day session can resolve the issue. But Quinn faces political pressure in the form of a re-election campaign and financial pressure as pension payments gobble up the state budget. Calling a special session is one of his few options to look as though he's doing something about a pension debt that's approaching $100 billion.