Including an exclusive interview with Gov. Quinn

Governor on pension reform: "We're not there yet"

By Anna Yee

March 21, 2013 Updated Mar 21, 2013 at 10:58 PM CDT

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Spring at the State Capitol is shining light on one thing, the chilling reality of the depth of Illinois' nearly $100 billion pension problem.

Since the Governor's budget address, lawmakers have been inching towards a comprehensive pension reform plan, piece by piece.

On Thursday, the House passed another measure, one that would reduce and delay cost-of-living increases for retirees.

"So far there have been votes, some very good votes to start reforming the system," said Governor Pat Quinn Thursday, "but we're not there yet."

The House's latest proposal would affect current and retired state workers, legislators, teachers, and employees at public universities.

Both University of Illinois and Illinois State University Presidents made a plea in the Senate Thursday to not cut state funding for their institutions.

"Our faculty has decreased over the last several years at each of our campuses," said U of I President Dr. Robert Easter. "We'll find it more difficult to fill vacant positions."

"Other countries, our competitors are putting more money into higher ed and post-secondary training, so that more of their citizens have advanced training," said ISU President Al Bowman, "and we'll lose our competitive edge if we continue down this path much longer."

Going down this path could mean tuition hikes and other compromises.

"Unfortunately, I think the time is coming that we're going to have to start consolidating some of our state universities," said State Representative Dan Brady, (R) of the 105th Dist.

"At some point the leaders in Springfield have to recognize there's a problem and start working their way out of it," said State Senator Jason Barickman, (R) of the 53rd Dist.

The Senate also approved a piece-meal approach to pension reform this week, but still has a ways to go.

"We're scrimmaging right now," said State Senator Dave Koehler, (D) of the 46th Dist. "People need to kind of sit back and relax and not get upset about where we're at. We're in the middle of the process."

Lawmakers have until the end of May to get some kind of pension reform bill passed.

After that, it could take even more time for the court to make sure that plan is constitutional.