Quinn calls special session Aug. 17 to deal with pensions


SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn is calling a special session of the General Assembly for Aug. 17 to deal with pension reform.

Quinn issued the call Monday, saying he wants the General Assembly to convene “for the purpose of considering any legislation, new or pending, which addresses pension reform.”

But Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said Quinn should withdraw the special session proclamation to save the state money. Instead, Cullerton said, he will call the Senate back into regular session on Aug. 17 to take up pensions.

State lawmakers are entitled to $111 per day for expenses if they are called back to Springfield for a special session after May 31. They do not receive the money if they return for a regular session day.

“I share the governor’s interest in resolving the lingering pension issues, but it makes no sense to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars when there is an easy, no-cost alternative,” Cullerton said in a statement.

Special session cost

Cullerton said per diem and travel costs for lawmakers for a special session day could cost nearly $40,000.

Quinn’s office did not immediately respond to Cullerton’s suggestion.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has already scheduled the House to be in regular session Aug. 17 to consider expelling Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, who is facing federal charges that he accepted a bribe.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the House also is considering whether to take up a pension reform bill that would affect only the State Employees Retirement System and the General Assembly Retirement System. That measure, House Bill 1447, narrowly passed the Senate in the closing hours of the spring session.

Quinn did not specify in his special session proclamation exactly what pension components should be considered. Proposals discussed so far generally require workers to choose between a retirement plan that continues annual 3 percent compounded cost of living adjustments in their pensions or a plan that reduces those COLAs, but contains other benefits.

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the governor wants the legislature to take up “comprehensive pension reform,” meaning the Teachers Retirement System and the State University Retirement System also should be included in legislative action. The General Assembly also should act to gradually shift some teacher pension expense to local school districts, she said in a statement.

Many downstate lawmakers oppose that idea, fearing it will lead school districts to raise property taxes and cut programs to cover their pension costs.

Quinn and Madigan say local school districts will be more careful when negotiating teacher contracts if they know they will be responsible for the added pension costs.

GOP encouraged

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, and House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, issued a joint statement saying they are “encouraged” by Quinn’s call for a special session on pension reform.

“We have been and continue to be supportive of comprehensive pension reform that solves the major crisis facing us today,” the leaders said. “The time to act has been upon us.”

However, Radogno spokeswoman Patty Schuh said Senate Republicans want to know more about Quinn’s plan, if he has one.

“We will be available in the coming weeks to discuss it, if the governor has a plan he’s going to lay out there or show us,” Schuh said.

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.

House Bill 1447

The pension bill that passed the Illinois Senate requires members of the State Employees Retirement System and General Assembly Retirement System to choose between two options.

Members can continue receiving a pension cost-of-living adjustment of 3 percent, compounded annually. If they do, however, they have to give up access to state retiree health insurance, and future salary increases will not count toward their pensions.

The alternative is a pension COLA that is one-half the urban Consumer Price Index or 3 percent, whichever is less. That COLA would not be compounded. Under this option, however, future salary increases would count toward pension benefits, and workers would still have access to state health insurance at retirement.