Kadner: Lawmakers rip Quinn for pay threat
BY PHIL KADNER firstname.lastname@example.org July 10, 2013 8:42PM
Illinois Rep. William Davis, D-East Hazel Crest, argues Illinois state budget legislation while on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol Friday, May 31, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Updated: August 12, 2013 11:41AM
State legislators in the Southland called Gov. Pat Quinn’s threat to suspend their salaries a publicity gimmick Wednesday and said it was unlikely to hasten the pace of pension reform.
“What word would I use to describe my reaction?” state Rep. Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest) said, pausing for several seconds to ponder the question. “Disappointed.”
“We have a chance here, a process to come up with a pension bill, called the Conference Committee,” Davis said, referring to a combined committee composed of Illinois Senate and House members working on a pension reform bill in Springfield.
“He (Quinn) was invited to appear before that committee and chose not to participate in that process,” Davis said.
The committee was created after Quinn called for its formation.
“Apparently, he doesn’t even see value in his own process,” Davis said.
Davis, a full-time legislator who, unlike many representatives, has no other job, said he would be financially hurt if he doesn’t get his paycheck.
When I told him I had received some emails and phone calls from people who think lawmakers should get hurt in the pocketbook, Davis said, “They don’t understand what we do.
“While we may not have passed a pension reform bill, we did pass a concealed-carry bill. We have passed a lot of other legislation.
“I am in my district office performing constituent services.
“People who say we don’t deserve to be paid have probably never had a loved one who had trouble getting Medicaid, or seeking a transfer from one state-run facility to another one.
“We work with our mayors and other local government entities all the time, helping them get state services.
“How would people feel if I said I wasn’t getting paid so I wouldn’t perform all of those services? That wouldn’t be right. And it is not right to withhold our salaries because of the pension issue.”
State Rep. Al Riley (D-Olympia Fields) said the Legislature has been working hard to pass a pension bill, contrary to the governor’s comments, and that the Conference Committee is close to agreeing on a compromise.
“At this point, they’re trying to work out the actuarial tables on what the financial impact of these proposals might be,” said Riley, an assistant majority leader in the House.
“This is a mathematical problem at this point and you can’t move that forward by threatening to withhold anyone’s paycheck.
“People, like myself, who are thoughtful and prudent, are not going to alter the course of the process because the governor wants something now.
“The governor is not in the Legislature and this is a legislative process. We will do our jobs and he should do his, as the executive.
“It’s not like we didn’t have a proposal to reform the pension system. We have two bills and the purpose of the Conference Committee is to come up with a compromise that can pass both houses of the Legislature.
“The governor saying he wants something now isn’t going to move that process along any faster.
“This is a statistics problem at this point and people need to take the time to do it right.”
State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago), whose district includes suburbs from Oak Lawn to Orland Park, said his wife telephoned after hearing about Quinn’s announcement.
“She basically questioned my sanity for staying in the General Assembly,” said Cunningham, a full-time legislator.
“This is not a joking matter. My wife works as a teachers aide in the Chicago Public Schools and makes about $14 an hour,” he said. “I need to pay the mortgage. I have a daughter at Mother McAuley and a tuition payment coming due. So, yes, it would have an impact on me financially.”
Cunningham, who noted he had voted to support the governor’s amendatory veto on concealed-carry legislation and supported him on several other issues, said those votes “didn’t make me very popular with my colleagues.”
He called the governor’s threat to withhold pay “an election gimmick.”
“This will be politically popular with the public and I think the governor is looking ahead to the next election,” Cunningham said. “Listen, September is when you begin collecting petitions to run for office and we all have that date marked on our calendars.
“I understand the governor’s frustration on the pension issue. All of us are frustrated. But I have voted for every pension reform bill that has come through and don’t feel his statements are a fair reflection of the work that we have done.”
State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) was more emphatic.
“I don’t think the governor has been politically helpful at all, either on the pension issue or the concealed-carry issue,” Hutchinson said.
“We passed bills in both houses of the Legislature (on pension reform). The Speaker (Michael Madigan) refused to call our bill in the House, or I believe it would have passed.
“What the public doesn’t understand is that there are a lot of moving parts to these bills. It is not as simple as some editorial writers make it sound.
“There’s a state constitutional bar this bill has to pass and a federal bar, that could result in Social Security payments having to be made if it is not done right.
“We’re talking about people’s lives here, and although we have to pass pension reform, we have to be aware of the impact on people.”
Hutchinson said she is not a lawyer, nor independently wealthy, and a salary cut would have serious consequences for her family.
State Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island) was one of the few to offer support for the governor, issuing a statement that read in part, “We need a solution as soon as possible, even if it takes the governor cutting our salaries to get us there, We’ve got to get the job done.”
State Rep. Renee Kosel (R-New Lenox) also expressed the hope that the governor’s threat would move the process forward.
State Sen. Napoleon Harris (D-Flossmoor) noted that as a former football player, he sometimes had bad games, “but I still got paid,” he said.
“I think you need to promote dialogue in a situation like this and all this will do is promote hostilities,” Harris said.