The roar of protesters vibrated through the Illinois Capitol rotunda Wednesday as community groups and organized labor clamored for attention. But the most intense noise wasn't the rhythmic stomp of the rallies. It was the pressing tick-tock of the final hours of the General Assembly's spring session, scheduled to conclude Thursday night.
Yes, to lawmakers consumed by machinations inside the Statehouse, Thursday promises to be as exciting, as fraught with possibility, as the final moments of a
. But to those of us out here in the real world, the game looks stale and familiar: Faced with a pension crisis that carries enormous risks for Illinois retirees and taxpayers, lawmakers have been behaving as if their failure to deliver dramatic reforms is acceptable.
It is not. That crisis is too menacing, the threat of further downgrades for the nation's least creditworthy state too imminent. Failure is failure, and no amount of self-congratulation from legislative leaders for a job shabbily done will be able to perfume that pig.
We won't be surprised if, by late Thursday, the
who dominate both legislative chambers produce something they proclaim is a major pension overhaul. But if any legislation they pass doesn't
truly solve the crisis
, we hope Gov.
will stick to his threat and keep lawmakers in Springfield until they do.
We hope Quinn
is more committed to the measures in the tougher reform package he unveiled April 20 than he is committed to enjoying a political victory lap to celebrate some weaker-kneed package. Compared to the take-it-or-leave-it pension bill House Speaker
tried to impose on Tuesday, Quinn's proposal would have expected more contributions from current workers who have flexibility to plan their financial futures. It would have provided more assurance that the law would produce the cost savings and worker contributions needed to lead Illinois pension plans back to firm ground.
If the majority Democrats push through pension reform lite at the last minute, with virtually no Republican input and with genteel treatment of current workers, they will have delivered one more in a long line of feckless legislative sessions that didn't fix the most pressing danger to state government's financial future.
A legislative session that began in February has produced meaningful cuts in Medicaid spending. It may produce a tight spending plan that will close several expensive and unnecessary state institutions. All good. But on the year's most crucial issue — pension reform — lawmakers have perpetuated their decades-long habit of popping huge legislation on the eve of adjournment, creating an artificial rush to an uninformed decision. At that point, bosses rule and gotcha politics trumps good policy.
, R-Murphysboro, spoke for many Illinoisans when he exploded on the House floor Tuesday, tossing papers and railing at Madigan's final-week pension ultimatum. "These damn bills that come out here all the damn time, come out here at the last second," Bost shouted. "I've got to figure out how to vote for my people! You should be ashamed of yourselves! I'm sick of it!"
By nightfall Thursday,
the best option may be for Quinn to let June 1 arrive, then order lawmakers to set aside any consideration of pension reform lite and instead negotiate more dramatic reforms — with both parties participating.
So far this year, the most impressive leadership on pensions has come from the governor. Quinn proposed a bold plan to reduce benefits, eliminate unfunded obligations over 30 years, and add a legal requirement that lawmakers fully fund the pension system every year. That's still the better outline for a negotiated solution.