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Outraged lawmakers call for special session to fix Illinois pension

Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, listens to the debate on the House floor Friday before the spring session was adjourned at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill.
Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, listens to the debate on the House floor Friday before the spring session was adjourned at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill.

Illinois lawmakers left the state capitol Friday without resolving the state’s $100 billion pension crisis, an elusive legislative priority that had local legislators demanding an immediate special session to address it.

Standing on the floor of the Illinois House, Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, called for Gov. Pat Quinn’s resignation if he didn’t show the leadership to order lawmakers to return to Springfield and fix the state’s $100 billion unfunded pension liability.

The House and Senate passed competing pension legislation earlier this month, and lawmakers weren’t able to agree on which measure to send to the governor. Friday was the final day of the session.

“Nothing is more important,” Franks told the Northwest Herald. “Our state is going to become insolvent because of this. If the governor doesn’t call us back in a special session, he ought to resign because he is not leading.”

Answering his critics, Quinn said in a statement following the House’s adjournment that he will call legislative leaders together in the next week to come up with solutions for the state’s pension crisis.

The Chicago Democrat says the people of Illinois want the Legislature to put an agreement on his desk. The governor’s office says the unfunded pension liability grows by $17 million per day, squeezing out funding for education and other areas of the budget.

Illinois has the nation’s worst state-pension crisis because lawmakers for years skipped or shorted payments. Legislators have tried for years to solve the problem but have repeatedly failed.

The legislature on Friday also failed to take decisive votes on bills that would have legalized gay marriage and expanded gambling across the state. Lawmakers in both chambers did send a concealed carry bill to Quinn just in time to make a court-ordered deadline.

The pension inaction means soaring pension payments will continue to squeeze the state budget. It also could prompt credit rating agencies to further downgrade Illinois’ rating, increasing the cost of borrowing.

Reps. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, and Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, were outraged the House’s last debate was on a bill that would have skipped a pension payment to the Chicago Public Schools retirement system.

During the debate, McSweeney called the bill a “joke” that reflects the type of decisions that helped create the pension crisis. The bill eventually was defeated, 39-78-1.

“It’s a disgrace, it’s a travesty that we are leaving Springfield without comprehensive pension reform,” McSweeney said.

Tryon said many legislators are frustrated by the pension reform negotiations, arguing that many proposals don’t include long-term solutions that would pay down the unfunded liability.

The legislature would benefit from a special session to develop a thorough solution, since its clear Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, have yet to agree on the proper approach, Tryon said.

“We are walking home without pension reform, and it seems the two chambers are far apart,” Tryon said.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report

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