It’s called the fall “veto” session but when lawmakers return to Springfield October 22, action on bills vetoed by the Governor will likely represent just a small portion of the issues being debated.
Out of nearly 600 bills passed during the spring legislative session, Governor Pat Quinn issued only 10 vetoes. Of those 10, seven have already been dealt with in one way or another, leaving a maximum of only three vetoed measures for lawmakers to consider.
With a small veto agenda, the session is likely to focus on other issues, and pension reform remains the biggest concern hanging over lawmakers. A bipartisan Conference Committee has been focused on the issue since June, working toward a solution that can ultimately win a majority of votes in the General Assembly.
Pensions Remain Unresolved
Illinois has the worst-funded pension system in the nation, with only 39 cents in assets for every $1 of obligations. A conservative estimate puts the state’s pension debt at $100 billion and rising. A workable solution has been maddeningly difficult to achieve. Especially aggravating is the fact that one sensible pension reform option is not even being considered. Senate Bill 2026 was proposed by the Illinois Policy Institute because it would pass constitutional muster, would immediately cut Illinois’ $100 billion unfunded pension liability by nearly half, and would protect the benefits earned to date by current government workers. Future benefits would accrue in new defined-contribution plans.
After failing for years to negotiate a fix to the problem, Governor Quinn suggested that a legislative conference committee be formed to develop a solution. Despite proposing the special committee, Governor Quinn has declined to participate in the process or provide any guidance on either defining the scope of the reforms or lining up legislative support for a proposal.
Leaders must lead and take the risks that leadership requires. The Governor has been absent from the committee meetings, preferring instead to criticize from the sidelines rather than lead negotiations for a solution. Heading into the fall veto session, a clear path to reform remains uncertain; however, as with many issues in the Legislature, no one is counting out the possibility that a last-minute agreement could be reached. I still expect the conference to come with a proposal for the veto session.
Here is a question for all of readers: if the conference committee proposes a bill that does some good (perhaps a change in the COLA to ½ the CPI instead of the compounded 3%, limits pensionable salary to the Social Security max of approximately $113,000, but reduces the employee contribution by a percent), then do I vote “yes” or “no”? I would really like your opinion. The argument in favor of “yes” is that it does do some good in reducing our unfunded liability and total cost, and would get the issue to the Illinois Supreme Court. The argument against a “yes” vote is that it doesn’t really solve the problem. We will still have a large unfunded liability and the politicians are likely to get us right back in this mess again in the near future. The only true solution is to convert to a defined contribution plan so that the state can never again get back into this unfunded liability mess. That, of course, was the idea behind my Senate Bill 2026, which had no chance to pass. What do you think? Send me an e-mail and let me know.
Incentives to Retain Businesses
One high-profile issue that could be on the agenda is an incentive package for Decatur’s Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), a worldwide crop processing and commodities trading company. The company has said they intend to move their headquarters out of Decatur, most likely to Chicago. The move would affect about 100 executives and the company has sought state support to remain in Illinois, pointing out that they are being pursued by other states.
The issue could possibly be tied to incentives for Naperville-based OfficeMax, which plans to merge with Office Depot and is in the process of determining where the combined companies’ headquarters will be; and with the move of the North American headquarters of the Zurich Insurance Group within Schaumburg. Please let me know what you think of this issue as well.
Emanuel Wants Stiff Gun Penalties
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed mandatory prison terms for some gun violations. While gun-rights advocates have traditionally supported tough sentencing laws for violent offenders, they say they are concerned that if the measure is too broadly written it could snare first-time offenders who inadvertently violate the law. The Governor’s office has also raised concerns that mandatory sentences will exacerbate prison overcrowding; however, proponents have said the social cost of not keeping gun violators behind bars exceeds the cost of imprisonment.
Lawmakers may also attempt to fix a problem with legislation that was intended to assist organizations that sponsor charitable “poker run” fund-raisers. The legislation was originally requested by a statewide organization of motorcycle enthusiasts who feared they could run afoul of the law when sponsoring the charity fund-raisers. The events generally involve club members riding from one location to another and drawing a card at each location, with the person scoring the highest poker hand at the end of the day winning. After the legislation was implemented, the groups found that the cost of securing a needed license could exceed the amount generally raised for the charity.
Three Vetoes Remain
Since the fall session officially remains a veto session, the three vetoed bills that are active must either be acted on or allowed to die. They are:
Free Museum Entry (HB 1200/Total Veto): Reduces the number of days that aquariums or museums must be open to the public free of charge from 52 (one day per week) to 26 days each year. This was done as a cost-saving measure for cash-strapped museums such as the Field Museum in Chicago. The Governor vetoed the bill saying that limiting free museum days to 26 days per year was too restrictive.
Mass Transit Bids (SB 1474/Total Veto): Increases the bid threshold amount to $40,000 (currently $10,000) for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Regional Transportation Agency (RTA), Metra and Pace. Quinn vetoed the measure, saying the increase in the bid threshold was too much and arguing that any changes affecting Chicago area mass transit should wait for the recommendations of the Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force, which he formed.
Township Advisory Referenda (HB 2454/Amendatory Veto): Requires that advisory questions before a township board must be related to the business of the township. Currently, townships must place an advisory question on the ballot if 15 voters petition the township board. This has raised concerns in some townships that small groups of people are forcing the townships to place numerous irrelevant questions on the ballot. The legislation also requires 15 days’ notice (now 10) for meetings, agendas, sales hearings, and new tax referendum meetings. Governor Quinn issued an amendatory veto, removing the language limiting advisory referenda to topics related to the business of the township saying it “silences the voices of the citizens by limiting the topics which may be the subject of advisory referenda.”
Previously Acted-on Vetoes
What about those other seven bills vetoed by the Governor? Three were vetoes of bills that duplicated other measures signed by the Governor. One was a spending veto that eliminated money that was already in another budget measure. Two were vetoes the Governor made earlier in the year: a “Smart Grid” clarification measure (SB 9) and Right-to-Carry legislation (HB 183). Both vetoes have already been overridden. The seventh was the Governor’s attempt to hold legislative pay hostage until pension reform has passed. That action was invalidated by the court.