On Wednesday, January 9th, the 98th General Assembly of the Illinois state legislature was sworn in. This group that includes veto-proof majorities in both chambers for the Democratic Party must deal with a long menu of issues that could not be resolved by their predecessors – with the largest being pension reform.
Many years, the lame duck session at the start of a year is when deals get made. The key is that only a simple majority is needed to pass legislation and the legislators leaving because of election losses or retirement vote without weighing political ramifications or may have a “side-deal” cut. At least this year, no side-deals were cut where a legislator places a vote connected to serving on a board or commission or becoming an agency director. That bad example of legislative “pay-to-play” may have been needed, because little happened.
The 97th General Assembly did pass legislation to allow undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses. But, it did not act on gay marriage, gun control, Chicago casino gaming or the big one – pension reform. Gay marriage may be addressed immediately by the 98th General Assembly because of the large Democratic majority in both chambers and even support from the state GOP. The federal government may act on gun control through the recommendations that will be provided by Vice President Joe Biden on January 15th that could include Executive Orders from President Barack Obama, thus giving the Illinois Statehouse an out. To double down on the delay if federal legislation is in play, Illinois Attorney General requested a re-hearing of the 7th U.S. District Court’s ruling that threw out Illinois’ conceal carry ban last month. Chicago casino gaming may never get done. It goes back to Governor Jim Edgar, which was 22 years ago.
Pension reform actually almost got done. There were suggestions, such as the legislation sponsored by Representative Elaine Nekritz and Senator Daniel Bliss and an alternative crafted by Senate President John Cullerton. Governor Pat Quinn even tried what was called a “Hail Mary” tactic. He proposed establishing a commission that would provide recommendations that would force the General Assembly to vote the recommendations down to not be enacted. In the end, there wasn’t even a vote taken on the issue.
The other issues, including Chicago casino gaming, may eventually get done. But the pension reform issue is different. The problem is immense from a fiscal standpoint and intricate from a political perspective. It may be too hard for the General Assembly to resolve. But at some point, soon, it will have to be. The liability will keep growing and be compounded by lower and lower bond/credit ratings.
The question is will it be between February 5th and May 31st this year during the Budget Session or will this frustrating can be kicked down the road again?