SPRINGFIELD — Democrat William Daley says he is “stunned” the state failed to address the pension crisis in the spring session and indicated the legislative meltdown is moving him closer to announcing a decision on whether to challenge Gov. Pat Quinn in the 2014 primary.
“Where’s the leadership?” Daley told the Tribune in an interview.
Already sounding like someone in campaign mode, Daley said a strong governor would have found common ground between the rival pension solutions offered by fellow Democrats, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, rather than leave Springfield with a stalemate.
"They both had different ideas on this bill. So who's the one who's supposed to forge a compromise? The governor,” Daley said.
"I'm going to be honest with you: I was shocked,” Daley said. “The anticipation was that they would do something on fiscal solvency and pensions because I don't know how they keep kicking the can” down the road.
“I'm just stunned that this place is totally dysfunctional,” Daley said of the statehouse. “We have a governor who is like an observer, 'It's the legislature's fault.' Well, the legislature is supposed to compromise by virtue of the governor bringing the compromise together.”
William Daley is the son of the late former Mayor Richard J. Daley and brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. He most recently served as chief of staff for President Barack Obama after Rahm Emanuel left the post to run for mayor. A longtime banker, William Daley also served as commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton.
Daley has been plotting a Democratic primary challenge to Quinn in the 2014 governor’s race, but has been in a bit of a holding pattern as Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan ponders her own challenge of Quinn. Questions have long persisted over whether Daley would stay in the race if Madigan gets in.
Pressed on his political intentions Monday, Daley said, "Yeah. I'm inching closer toward action, as I've said, that I'm seriously considering running. I'm more seriously considering this by virtue of the debacle that seemed to happen with this legislative session."
Daley indicated an announcement would be “in probably the next week or so.”
Fitch Ratings downgraded Illinois on Monday, the first business day after the General Assembly adjourned its spring session Friday evening. The state’s pension systems are in the worst shape of any in the nation. The pension systems for rank-and-file state workers, legislators, university employees and public school teachers outside Chicago are nearly $100 billion in debt.
"I think Madigan's plan was the most realistic to help make this state fiscally sound,” Daley said.
The Madigan plan was designed to bring the pensions to full funding in 30 years and estimates put cost reductions at more than $187 billion. Cullerton’s version would save an estimated one-third of the Madigan plan and shoot for the plans to be 90 percent funded in 30 years.
The speaker pushed through the House a proposal that would require state workers to kick in more from their paychecks, increase the retirement age and scale back the automatic 3 percent compounded interest increase retirees receive. Cullerton won Senate passage of his own proposal, which would require workers and retirees to choose an option, such as reining in the growth in their pension checks in exchange for keeping retiree health care.
Cullerton, whose plan was supported by labor, said his version of reform was constitutional because giving beneficiaries a choice allowed the change to fit within the contractual parameters of the state constitution, which was long viewed as a document that would not allow pensions to be reduced once they were put in place.
Despite his constitutional questions about Madigan’s plan, Cullerton put the speaker’s legislation up for a vote last week in the Senate, and it was overwhelmingly defeated. Madigan has long said his plan would be upheld. But they all left Springfield without sending a pension plan to Quinn.
“Squeezy the Python was there, and he couldn't squeeze anybody,” Daley said, referencing Quinn’s cartoon character designed to illustrate how pension costs squeeze money from state programs. “The governor couldn't squeeze anybody. . . . Is that how things are going to work? We're looking at another five years of this? I don't think so."
Daley also lashed out at the legislature for failing to approve gay marriage legislation, especially when President Barack Obama urged passage during a fundraising stop last week in Chicago. “It’s crazy,” Daley said. Obama, having served as a state senator, could have been asked to personally lobby some of his former colleagues to help pick up the votes needed to pass gay marriage, Daley said.
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