Thursday, May 27, 2010

Senate leaves without a vote on pension borrowing

By Jamey Dunn

The Senate wrapped up some major issues before leaving Springfield today but avoided one of the largest components of the budget framework approved by the House this week.

And it seems that if a bill to borrow more than $4 billion to make the required employee pension payment is going to pass, Gov. Pat Quinn will have to do some hard lobbying of senators.

The legislature has already passed its “Emergency Budget Act,” which gives the governor more power to shift money and make cuts. The spending bill that lawmakers sent to Quinn makes lump-sum appropriations to agencies, giving him the responsibility to dole out the money as he chooses. Democratic leaders hinted today that if the borrowing doesn’t pass, the governor could have to make do without the cash and make the payments anyway.

Senate President John Cullerton said his chamber did not take up the borrowing proposal today because it lacked the votes to pass. He said the Senate would likely come back to the Capitol to approve it in two or three weeks if a few senators change their minds on the issue. Cullerton made it clear he expects bipartisan support. Since borrowing bills require a three-fifths majority to pass, the constitutional Monday adjournment deadline would not affect the number of votes needed.

“We don’t have any Republican votes like they did in the House,” he said. He added that two Republican votes probably would be necessary to pass the bill. Cullerton said he would not be the one trying to persuade members on either side of the aisle. “[Gov. Pat Quinn] is going to be the one that helps convince them the importance of having this money for their districts.”

House Speaker Michael Madigan said the issue of making the pension payment for the next fiscal year is, in essence, Quinn’s problem. He said if borrowing doesn’t pass, “it makes life more difficult for the governor and the comptroller.”

Madigan said he would wait to see what the Senate does on the matter before committing to an alternate plan, such as passing a bill that would allow the state to skip the pension payment.

However, he added that even if the Senate doesn’t pass borrowing, it is not guaranteed that a “pension holiday” vote would follow. He said Quinn and Comptroller Dan Hynes, Quinn’s opponent earlier this year in the hard-fought Democratic primary for governor, might just have to manage what would essentially be a $4 billion demand on general revenues.

“Without the borrowing to make the pension payment, pension payments get in line with everybody else [owed money by the state], and they became a matter for the governor and the comptroller in terms of managing the cash flow,” Madigan said.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said she is not pressuring her side of the aisle to vote against borrowing. “Members are coming to the independent conclusion this is a bad deal.”

She said some Republicans voted to borrow for the payment last year, only to find that nothing has changed this time around. “It didn’t work last year, and in fact, all it did was encumber the revenue we needed to pay bills this year. It’s precisely what’s going to happen again because there’s no overall plan to deal with this. It’s just borrowing again — no way to pay it back.”

Radogno said she thinks Quinn will offer members of her caucus “perks” and projects for their districts to try to get “yes” votes for borrowing, and such tactics would put him on “very shaky” legal ground. “What’s going to be going on in the next few weeks are promises to get people to vote for things.”

Radogno said Quinn’s administration contacted Republican Sens. Larry Bomke from Springfield, David Luechtefeld from Okawville and John Jones from Mount Vernon about their votes. All three confirmed speaking with the governor’s people and flatly denied that they had been offered anything for their votes.

The Senate passed all the other components of the House’s budget:

Senate Bill 3660 is the “Emergency Budget Act.”

SB3677 is a “tax amnesty plan.”

House Bill 859 is the spending bill.

SB3662 is the budget implementation bill.

A couple of issues backed by Quinn took some big hits today, and almost everyone had something to say about it except the governor himself. He ducked reporters after leaving the Senate floor upon adjournment.

Quinn did issue a written statement late this evening. In it, he said: “Our task is not complete, and there’s more that must be accomplished before this session officially ends. I remind members of the General Assembly that the people of Illinois are depending upon their elected officials to promptly and squarely address the serious fiscal issues confronting our state."

The chambers adjourned today to “the call” of the House speaker and Senate president. So, legislators could be called back to Springfield at any time to wrap up loose ends and address the pension payment.


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