Has there ever been a better symbol of the asinine attitude state legislators take toward pension reform than the cartoonish Squeezy the Python?
Cartoons, like that snake, usually are jokes. And when it comes to fixing state pension systems, so are Illinois lawmakers.
They proved that yet again last week when the House and Senate held special sessions June 19, reputedly to try to reach a deal on pension reform. Gov. Pat Quinn called for the special session after lawmakers adjourned May 31 without approving a plan to address the nearly $100 billion unfunded pension liability.
Instead, lawmakers created a 10-member conference committee to attempt to develop a pension fix that reconciles deep differences between warring reform bills – one championed by Senate President John Cullerton, the other by House Speaker Michael Madigan.
A conference committee is a rarely used tool, and has a goal of reaching consensus when the House and Senate reach an impasse. The committee will be made up of 10 members – Cullerton and Madigan each will get three appointees, and House Republican Leader Tom Cross and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno each will get two.
History isn’t on their side – previous committees trying to fix pensions have accomplished little.
Rod Blagojevich created the Governor’s 2004 Pension Commission, which met six times in April and May that year.
The Governor’s Pension Reform Program held multiple hearings from June to October 2009 and issued a 229-page report in November 2009, which noted that since 1997, at least 17 major pieces of legislation were approved relating to pensions; those included issuing pension obligation bonds.
Quinn created a working group in January 2012 that was to issue a report by that April that would recommend how to fix pensions.
Yet here we are, committees over and reports issued, and the unfunded liability continues to grow at a rate of $17 million a day.
We hope, for taxpayers’ sake, that this conference committee does what decades of other lawmakers have been unable to do.
But it’s hard to have faith – we’re supposed to believe the lawmakers that got us into this mess are going to solve it in a month?
We don’t want the joke to be on us.