Reporting Mike Krauser
CHICAGO (CBS) – Gov. Pat Quinn says, when state lawmakers go back to Springfield for their final session before the new legislature takes over, addressing the pension mess has to be their top priority.
WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports the governor said Thursday that issues like driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and same-sex marriage are important issues, but he said the most pressing issue for the Illinois General Assembly is reforming and stabilizing the state’s pension systems.
“I would say to all lawmakers – of every party, both houses – the credit rating agencies are poised to downgrade our ratings again, and we can’t afford this,” Quinn said. “We want to keep building things in Illinois – our roads, our bridges, our schools. In order to do that, we have to issue bonds, and if our bond rating is reduced again – our credit rating is reduced – we may not be able to do what we want to do.”
The new General Assembly is sworn-in on Jan. 9, but the current Illinois House and Illinois Senate are set to meet for a few final days of session just after the New Year.
“This is time for ‘high noon,’ to come together, where the people of Illinois confront this issue through their elected representatives, and solve it in a positive way that makes us all better for it,” the governor said.
Moody’s Investors Service has warned the state’s credit rating could be downgraded again if there is no movement soon on the pension situation.
The state has $96 billion in unfunded pension debt. State employee unions have offered to chip in more for their pensions, if the state raises new revenue to guarantee its own pension obligations from now on.
For years, the state has delayed or short-changed its pension obligations to use the money for other expenses.
Quinn said the pension issue is a “very vexing problem.”
“It’s been around for 70 years in Illinois. Through 12 governors, 13 speakers of the House, 12 Senate presidents – we’ve had this pension challenge getting worse and worse,” the governor said. “So now it’s time to take it on, head-on, and solve it, and move forward.”
A group of at least 20 lawmakers have pitched a plan they estimated would save the state $2 billion on pension costs, and reduce the pension debt by nearly $30 billion next year.
The measure would reduce cost-of-living increases for state workers and retirees, and require employees to contribute more to their pensions. It would also shift the burden for paying the employer’s share of teacher pensions from the state to local school districts, and set a higher retirement age for younger employees.
Lawmakers said their plan would make sure the state’s pension plans are fully funded within 30 years.