CHICAGO — —
Gov. Pat Quinn sought Friday to pin responsibility for solving Illinois' nearly $100 billion pension crisis squarely on the General Assembly, saying lawmakers must "do their job" and come up with a deal before a special legislative session later this month.
"I'm telling our legislators: stop meandering, forge an agreement that I can sign into law so we can resolve this problem," Quinn said following an unrelated event in Chicago. "I'm not the Legislature. I'm the governor. The Legislature's got to do its job. I'm ready to do mine."
Quinn's comments came one week after the General Assembly adjourned for the session without approving a fix for Illinois' worst-in-the-nation state pension problem, and amid criticism that he didn't do enough to get it done. In the past week, two Republicans have announced they're running for governor in 2014, saying the inaction shows a lack of leadership by Quinn.
Two credit ratings agencies also downgraded Illinois' rating, which already was the lowest of any state in the nation.
Quinn announced Thursday he's calling lawmakers back to Springfield on June 19 to address the issue. That announcement also drew critics, who say the session — like one the Democratic governor from Chicago called last year on the same topic — will be a costly waste of time if there's no deal in hand by the time lawmakers get back together to discuss pensions.
Quinn said Friday that he plans to meet with House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton on Monday. He said he will push lawmakers "night and day" to find a solution before the special session begins.
The governor called a meeting with Cullerton and Madigan for last Tuesday, but only Cullerton showed up. A Madigan spokesman said the speaker was unavailable, but declined to say where Madigan was. Quinn later told reporters he'd tried to get Madigan on the phone but had been unsuccessful.
Quinn said he finally spoke with Madigan on Friday. He described the conversation as "very pleasant" and said Madigan told him, "See you Monday."
Illinois' five public employee retirement systems are $97 billion short of what's needed to pay benefits as currently promised to workers and retirees, due largely to years of the Legislature voting to skip or short the state's payments.
The annual pension payment now is about $6 billion — an amount that takes money away from areas such as education and public safety, and that will continue to grow each year until lawmakers act.
But the Illinois House and Senate passed rival proposals during the legislative session that ended last week, and couldn't come up with a compromise or an agreement on which measure to send to Quinn's desk.
The House backed a plan sponsored by Madigan that would cut benefits across the board, raise the retirement age and require workers to pay more toward their own retirement. The Senate approved a plan sponsored by Cullerton that had the support of the state's largest public-employee unions. It gave workers a choice in which benefits to receive in retirement.
Madigan argued his plan would save more money, but Cullerton said his was the only proposal that would survive an inevitable court challenge.