Analysis | Illinois Statehouse News

Lawmakers may return Dec. 3 for pension fix

2013-11-18T00:00:00Z Lawmakers may return Dec. 3 for pension fixKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
November 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Trying to predict the behavior of the General Assembly is tricky and, usually, better left alone.

Sometimes you get close though.

Last weekend, I reported the House was eyeing a return to Springfield on Dec. 5 to possibly take action on an overhaul of the state’s underfunded pension systems.

On Wednesday, it emerged that legislative leaders were actually looking at Dec. 3.

Alas. Missing the date by two days isn’t bad though. And that still could change if enough members tell the leaders they have other commitments.

Lawmakers are not officially scheduled to return to inaction until late January, when they gavel in the spring session and hear Gov. Pat Quinn deliver his annual State of the State speech.

But, momentum plays a big role under the Statehouse dome and, if some kind of pension deal can be worked out, the typical mode is to rush back and do it before anyone can blink.

Dec. 3 makes a lot of sense because it is the day after the deadline for candidates to file paperwork for the 2014 primary election.

That means incumbents will be free to vote on what will be a controversial overhaul of the state's pension systems without the possibility that an angry potential opponent will be able to get on the March 18 ballot.

In the Senate, this isn't much of a concern. There aren't that many members who are fearful of a primary challenge.

In the House, however, where every member is up for re-election every two years, it apparently was something to be worried about.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, is a master of timing. Most of what happens in his chamber doesn't occur until he feels the time is right for his members. They appreciate this. Regardless of what you think about the Democrat from Chicago, he is elected speaker because he has a nearly peerless record in terms of keeping Democrats in control of the House.

For state workers and pensioners, the plan that is emerging likely will mean a lower annual cost-of-living adjustment.

In exchange, workers could be asked to make a lower contribution. It is hoped that this “concession” could be viewed as enough of a trade-off to stop the inevitable lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the changes.

That's not a bet I'd make.

-- MAN OF LOUD SILENCE

Gov. Pat Quinn was asked last week during a stop in Springfield if he would sign an overhaul of the Chicago Park District pension system, which is beset with many of the same woes the state systems face.

He didn't answer the question.

Like he does in so many similar situations, he said he and his staff were reviewing the legislation.

This is the governor's secret code: When he says the word "review," it actually means: "I'm not gonna tell you what I'm thinking."

It's polite, not very revealing and it leads to a lot of eye-rolling among the press corps.

In this case, the speculation is that Quinn is balking at the measure because it is opposed by the Service Employees International Union, which represents park district workers.

SEIU also is one of Quinn's biggest campaign contributors, shoveling millions of dollars into his campaign account during the 2010 election.

He's in a sticky place.

-- DRIVER'S LICENSES

There were some reports of jammed phone lines and balky computer interfaces, but we’re not talking about the sign-up for Obamacare here.

Last week marked the first week in which illegal immigrants could begin scheduling appointments to get driver’s licenses in Illinois.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Jesse White said 4,200 people were able to schedule appointments to begin the process of putting the licenses in their hands.

The first appointments will start on Dec. 3 and run through early February.

A second round of appointments is set to begin in January with additional driver’s license facilities participating in the appointments.

White spokesman David Druker said officials decided to take a phased-in approach because they aren’t sure how long it will take to walk applicants through the registration process.

Rather than just opening up the facilities and causing a potential stampede, the appointment process could help them determine how much time is needed for each person.

Illinois, he said, is the biggest state to implement an immigrant license program and as many as 250,000 people could apply.

“People are watching us,” Druker said.

The opinions are the writer's. Kurt Erickson is Lee Springfield Bureau chief. He can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or (217) 782-4043.

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