SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Pat Quinn threw himself behind a proposal Wednesday that would reform four of the state’s ailing pension systems in his State of the State address.
But state Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, was hoping for more leadership from the governor on the issues facing the state.
“It takes a follow-through as well as bold ideas to get things done in Illinois,” Pritchard said.
He said he hoped Quinn would pressure the legislative leadership and other interested parties to pass a pension reform bill that would fit within the guidelines of the state constitution.
Quinn’s State of the State address – his fifth since taking office in 2009 – served a dual purpose of highlighting past accomplishments, and outlining priorities for the coming year. He delivered the speech to the Legislature and executive officers, including a number of people who are potential gubernatorial challengers in both the Democratic primary and the general election.
Among the legislators whose districts include DeKalb County, Quinn’s speech didn’t score a lot of points.
Quinn called for a four-year plan to increase the state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and legalizing gay marriage. He also called for an end to conflict-of-interest voting by state lawmakers.
For the past several months, Quinn has made numerous mentions about the dangers of a pension system with a $100 billion liability. This pension squeeze, Quinn said Wednesday, is costing the state $17 million a day.
“Do we want, in the years to come, a prosperous Illinois where working people continue to have good jobs, where businesses thrive, and where all our children have a world-class education?” Quinn said. “Or do we want to stop the progress and watch our economic recovery stall?”
The pension reform proposal being championed by Senate President John Cullerton, a fellow Chicago Democrat, would cap a person’s pensionable salary, temporarily suspend and reduce the amount of automatic annual increases, requires the systems to be 100 percent funded by 2043, and increase required employee contributions.
The proposal, Senate Bill 1, would apply to the pensions of lawmakers, state workers, university employees and downstate teachers. It also contains a separate section of contingency statutes if part of the bill is declared unconstitutional.
“And while refinements may come, Senate Bill 1 is the best vehicle to get the job done,” Quinn said.
Quinn referred to pension reform as being “Job One” for the 98th General Assembly, which features 38 freshmen lawmakers, including state Rep. Tom Demmer a Dixon Republican whose 90th district includes much of south and western DeKalb County, including the southern part of DeKalb.
Demmer agreed that pensions are a major issue facing lawmakers, and said any proposal will be amended numerous times before it comes to a vote.
State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said a pension solution needs to come soon.
“At some point, you have to do the surgery and apply the medicine, no matter how painful that solution is,” Syverson said.
None of the area’s legislators said they would back the governor’s call to legalize gay marriage or raise the minimum wage.
Throughout his speech, Quinn pointed to a number of examples of how Illinois is a job-friendly state and attracted businesses to it throughout his tenure. Demmer countered that raising the minimum wage will not improve job creation.
“Now is not the right time to burden business owners and increase prices on consumers,” Demmer said.
State Sen. Tim Bivins, a Dixon Republican, agreed with Demmer.
“[A higher minimum wage] sounds good for the person looking for a job,” Bivins said. “The problem is that it hits small businesses, which are 85 percent of the businesses. ... They have to cut costs by not hiring, or they pass on the costs to consumers. Hurting employers is one thing Illinois doesn’t need right now.”
Bivins also said he opposes Senate Bill 1, calling it unconstitutional.
In addition to opposing the legalization of gay marriage, Demmer and Syverson said legislators should focus on more pressing issues, like pension reform or the budget.
Demmer said he believes marriage is for one man, one woman, while Pritchard and Syverson said the bill’s language discriminates against people of faith.
Overall, Bivins said many saw the State of the State address as a campaign speech.
“That wasn’t unexpected.”
– The Associated Press contirbuted to this report.