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CHICAGO (CBS) – In his first public appearance since formally entering the race for governor, Bill Daley attacked his two likely Democratic primary opponents for the state’s pension crisis, saying Gov. Pat Quinn and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan have shown a lack of leadership on the issue.
Two days ahead of a special session of the Illinois General Assembly – ordered by the governor to address the state’s $100 billion pension debt – Daley said Quinn should threaten to veto any pension plan that doesn’t save as much money as the plan backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is also the attorney general’s father.
Daley further said Lisa Madigan – who has said she is considering a bid for governor, but has yet to formally enter the race – should issue a legal opinion on the constitutionality of the House plan and a competing plan backed by Senate President John Cullerton.
“In my opinion, the attorney general should be asked to write an opinion on the constitutionality of both bills. This has been the root of the problem over the last six months. The Senate’s been stuck on the fact that their bill is constitutional and all other bills are not constitutional,” Daley said.
The Senate voted down the House plan last month, and the House has yet to call the Senate plan for a vote. The speaker’s plan would save an estimated $187 billion in pension costs over the next 30 years.
While Speaker Madigan’s plan would save more money than Cullerton’s plan, Cullerton’s plan is widely viewed as being more likely to found constitutional by the courts.
Daley blasted Madigan for not having already issued a legal opinion on the constitutionality of the House and Senate pension plans, and said Quinn has failed to take the lead in pension negotiations.
“Everyone has to step up to the plate and do the job, and that’s what’s not been done,” Daley said. “Everybody’s pointing the fingers, from blaming Blagojevich to blaming this guy to blaming that one; and ‘I can’t do this now’ and ‘maybe later,’ and here we sit.”
Daley belittled the governor’s failed effort to build grassroots support for pension reform and pressure lawmakers into coming up with a compromise, through a cartoon character he called “Squeezy the Pension Python.”
However, that campaign amounted to little more than a YouTube video called “The Pension Squeeze” that depicted an orange python wrapping itself around the Illinois State Capitol. The video has received only 29,000 views in seven months.
Meantime, a conservative think tank and a group of Repbulican lawmakers said Monday that neither plan is a real solution to the pension problem. They also blamed Madigan, Cullerton and other Democratic leaders for creating the state’s pension crisis in the first place.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) said, by leaving it up to Cullerton and Speaker Madigan to come up with a pension reform plan, “you’re essentially putting the arsonist in charge of putting out the fire, and that’s the problem here.”
Ives and other conservative lawmakers joined the Illinois Policy Institute on Monday to propose freezing public employee pensions at current levels, and replacing the current defined-benefit system going forward with a 401(k)-style defined-contribution retirement plan.
IPI President and CEO John Tillman said “politicians have created a pension retirement system that has spiraled out of control. It cannot be fixed. It’s time to make a change.”
Tillman said a 401(k)-style system would give state workers more control over their retirement benefits.
State Sen. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) said a plan to switch to a 401(k)-style pension system would be adopted eventually.
“There’s no choice. We have to eventually move to a 401(k) style,” he said.
Sandack said he doubts lawmakers will pass either the House or Senate pension plans when they return Wednesday for the special session ordered by the governor.
“Unfortunately, we have two competing plans on the docket,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be any indication that either party is willing to budge. I’m afraid, I think, a stalemate will continue.”
Sandack and other supporters of the IPI plan said Alaska already has switched to a 401(k)-style retirement system for its state workers, and Illinois must do the same to keep its pension systems solvent.