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Illinois Governor Throws Down Gauntlet in Pension Fight

Illinois may be on the cusp of a public pension overhaul. After months of wrangling with Democrats in the legislature and with public unions, Governor Pat Quinn has called for the statehouse to pass a bill to shore up the state’s pensions system before the new legislature is sworn in next week. The New York Times reports:

“We’re trying to do fundamental pension reform that has confounded 12 governors, 13 speakers of the House and 13 Senate presidents over the last 70 years,” Mr. Quinn said in a recent interview, adding that despite that troubled history, he believed that a meaningful overhaul of the state’s pension systems could be passed through the current legislature in a single week — after lawmakers begin returning to Springfield on Wednesday and wrapping up before newly elected lawmakers are sworn in at noon on Jan. 9.

“We have come to the moment,” Mr. Quinn said.

Many Springfield insiders are extremely skeptical that Quinn can get this done. Nor is it clear that any bill that passed would be enough to solve the problems of one of the country’s most troubled pension systems. Even if Democrats in the legislature break with their union supporters and pass a bill, it is likely to be significantly watered down in the drafting process as blue politicians work to avoid alienating a major source of fundraising and support.

Nevertheless, the fact that public pension reform is on the agenda in one of the nation’s bluest states is a sign of just how much stress the blue model is under. The system really is in danger of melting down, and something must be done. Illinois’s pension battle is shaping up as one of the stories to watch in 2013.

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