At the start of 2012 in this column, the following questions were asked:
• Will there be a challenge to the constitutionality of reducing currently retired state employees’ pension benefits;
• Will the General Assembly pass the 6 percent reduction in Medicaid reimbursement rates it rejected in 2011;
• Will there be a revised Chicago casino bill that the General Assembly and Governor Quinn can both support;
• Will Illinois develop a comprehensive energy strategy that can parlay the benefits of Smart Grid incorporation and include new solar, wind and coal technologies; and
• Will the legislative remaps create veto-proof majorities in the Illinois House and Senate?
The answers are – not yet, pretty much, no, no and yes. In addition to those issues, there were a number of other intriguing things buzzing in the Illinois Statehouse in 2012, such as:
• Debating about concealed carry (pre- and post-Newtown, Connecticut);
• Potential passage of same-sex marriage legislation;
• The relationship between Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Speaker of the House Michael Madigan and Governor Pat Quinn;
• The deterioration of Governor Quinn’s relationship with Illinois labor;
• The growing support of legalizing “medical” marijuana;
• The impact on Illinois healthcare from the U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold Obamacare;
• The rush of Illinois Statehouse members to replace Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.;
• The William “Bill” Cellini sentencing and subsequent end of an era;
• The ouster and subsequent re-election of former State Representative Derrick Smith; and
• Another former-governor (Rod Blagojevich) starting a long prison sentence.
But nothing compared to the star of the show in 2012 – pension reform.
Often compared to a ticking time bomb, the state’s pension reform “hot mess” should dominate most local “Land of Lincoln” news cycles, but it doesn’t. The potential and real impact is so great that for an Illinois resident, it should cause more palpitations that the federal “fiscal cliff” discussions/debacle. The $95 billion in unfunded pension liabilities has had the following ramifications:
• Led to Illinois having arguably the worst credit rating of any state in the nation;
• Caused the state to have unpaid bills on any given day of about $8.5 million;
• Triggered an “off the chart” annual Medicaid outlay of approximately $15 billion; and
• Per Governor Quinn’s office, is costing Illinois $17.1 million per day.
2013 is obviously right around the corner. Unfortunately, unless the General Assembly and Governor Quinn do something major during the upcoming Veto Session that starts next week, pension reform will probably be the dominant Illinois Statehouse topic in 2013. It is frightening to think that something could actually top it.