Reporting Rob Johnson
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Gov. Pat Quinn was back in Springfield Tuesday night, dealing with the state’s pension and Medicaid problems. He said lawmakers must “show some fortitude” and come up with major pension and Medicaid reforms this spring.
The governor spoke with CBS 2’s Rob Johnson Tuesday morning about how, until those serious issues are resolved, it will be difficult to tackle the state’s other pressing financial woes.
On a sunny day at Soldier Field, Quinn welcomed Special Olympians to the place it all began 44 years ago, fully aware that some of his most beloved programs face tough cuts.
The governor is seeking major reforms to the public pension system to close an $83 billion funding gap in the state’s five employee pension funds. He’s also pushing for $2.7 billion in cuts and other cost-saving changes to the state’s Medicaid program.
The governor is in a tough spot when dealing with Medicaid, because there are a lot of worthy programs that elected officials are loathe to cut.
“We don’t have the options on some of the programs. If we don’t make the economies, then the whole program will collapse,” he said.
The governor has proposed reforming the state’s Medicaid system by imposing $1.3 billion in cuts, lowering reimbursement rates to Medicaid providers by about $700 million, and raising cigarette taxes by another $700 million.
“If we put all of that together, we can restructure the program. No one is gonna get scalped. There’ll be haircuts, that’s what it is,” Quinn said.
Perhaps the bigger challenge will be to reform the public employee pension plan, but it appears he now has support of top leaders in the legislature.
Quinn’s plan would raise the retirement age, require employees to contribute more to their retirement, and freeze cost-of-living increases.
“The retirement age will be a little higher, there will be some more changes in the whole area of cost of living adjustments, but these are reasonable,” the governor said. “We have to do that if we’re going to have a solvent system, a system that is able to pay the benefits.”
The changes will require some tough votes for state legislators, many of whom rely on support from labor unions that oppose many of the governor’s proposals.
But Quinn sounded undaunted in his push for pension reform before the end of the spring legislative session on May 31.
“This is a moment in history. Members of the legislature, whatever party, whatever house, they’ve got to show some fortitude, and do courageous things for the good of the people” Quinn said.
If the legislature does not address major pension and Medicaid reforms by the scheduled end of the spring session, Quinn has said he might call a special session to keep them in Springfield until they do.