SPRINGFIELD --- The Illinois House adjourned this afternoon without even voting on Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's desperation pension reform plan.
Quinn threw his support behind a bill that would set up a commission to decide how to fix Illinois' financially failing government worker retirement systems.
Conventional efforts to craft a compromise on pension changes have gone nowhere during the lame-duck session. The new measure filed today would set up an eight-member commission appointed by the four legislative leaders. The panel would issue a report on pension system changes that would become law unless the General Assembly voted to overturn it.
Testifying before a House panel, Quinn said the measure represents "extraordinary action" to break the gridlock. It is modeled after federal military base closing commission reports to Congress. "We must have some sort of movement," Quinn said.
While the committee advanced the measure to the full House, Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago later adjourned the lame-duck session without calling Quinn's plan for a vote.
Labor leaders immediately called it a "clearly unconstitutional delegation of power" and a "sad attempt to get something done."
Quinn maintained the approach has been upheld as constitutional. The governor said he wanted the pension systems fully funded by the end of December 2045, saying it is critical to "act promptly on this crisis."
Under questioning, Quinn acknowledged, "we need a new mechanism or different structure" because political gridlock had not yielded a solution.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said she would support the bill in committee as a nod to the governor but had serious questions of the constitutionality of the proposal.
Further, Currie said she worried the proposal would "take us three steps back." Currie said she thought the legislative negotiators on pension bills had made progress.
The committee voted 7-2 to advance the bill to the full House.
Quinn's latest plan came after he urged lawmakers to take a vote on government worker pension reform before the new legislature is sworn in at noon Wednesday, saying Illinois' economy is being held hostage by "political timidity."
The Democratic governor suggested there needs to be compromise, but did not offer specifics on how he thinks the gridlock on pensions could be broken.
Quinn decided to hold his news conference despite being told by House Speaker Michael Madigan that demanding a vote, even for symbolic reasons, didn't make sense when there aren't enough votes to pass the bill, according to Steve Brown, a Madigan spokesman.
Brown said forcing such a tough vote could irk lawmakers who are coming back in the new General Assembly and whose votes may be needed to pass pension reform down the road.
So far, House sponsors have been unable to line up enough votes to pass a comprehensive plan that would freeze cost-of-living increases for six years, delay granting pension inflation bumps until retirees hit 67 and require employees to pay more toward their retirement.
Even if that plan passed the House, it could face an uphill climb in the Senate, where senators went home last Thursday and would have to quickly return to vote. In addition, Senate President John Cullerton has indicated he prefers his own version of pension reform that he argues is constitutional, unlike the House plan.
With time running short, Quinn today said all parties need to double their efforts to reach a comprehensive bill that clears up the state's worst-in-the-nation $96.8 billion in a generation.
Pension reform is essential to put the Illinois economy on "sound financial footing," Quinn said.
"We cannot allow the state's economy to be held hostage by political timidity," Quinn said.
Quinn said more compromises need to be reached on legislative proposals, but he said he did not favor the Senate plan that dealt with state rank-and-file workers and legislators because it was not comprehensive.
A bill pending on the House floor reins in pension costs and addresses the state's pensions for four pension systems. The two additional systems are for university workers and and public school teachers from the suburbs and downstate.
Quinn said the Senate and House are both going to be in Springfield today, although the Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, had said it would be back if the House passed a significant pension bill.
"We've put them on stand-by," said Rikeesha Phelon, Cullerton's spokeswoman. "It's still tentative."
She said the Senate is awaiting House action before it returns. "I don't know how to be more clear," Phelon said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun