Lawmakers may punt on state worker pension payments until January

Friday, May 7, 2010

SPRINGFIELD — Lawmakers might decide to simply delay making billions of dollars in state worker pension payments until January as a way of dealing with a massive budget gap, leading House and Senate Democrats said today.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie and Sen. Donne Trotter, both Chicago Democrats, acknowledged the possibility of skipping the pension payment. The option arose after Republicans showed little support for borrowing money to balance this year’s budget.
Currie on Wednesday called for a test vote on a borrowing package worth nearly $4 billion, but she failed to get the three-fifths majority required to pass the House. There weren't enough Republican votes.
Today, Gov. Pat Quinn refused to address directly if he would sign a budget that puts off pension payments until January, though Currie said that's the plan that may end up on Quinn's desk.
“That’s a possibility,” Currie said. “I think it’s important for us to be able to make our payments to the pension system and I’m sorry that yesterday’s effort failed so we’ll see where we go from here.”
Quinn said he has not given up on borrowing, saying it’s a necessary for the state to provide adequate education, health care and other services.
“The bottom line is for the fiscal year coming up we will fulfill our pension obligations, whatever is necessary to do that,” Quinn said. “I am absolutely committed to do that and we’ll find a solution to this issue.”
Delaying pension payments until January also would make it a major looming problem for whoever is sworn in as governor after the start of the new year. Quinn has pushed for a major income tax increase to balance the budget, while Republican foe Sen. Bill Brady has called for major budget cuts, though observers say it's doubtful cuts alone will solve the problem.