No pension deal as lawmakers go home

Friday, May 28, 2010

SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois lawmakers Thursday fled the Capitol for the month -- and possibly until November -- by leaving a gaping, multibillion-dollar budget hole unfilled but throwing voters with school-age children a potentially costly election-year tax break.

On what could be the final legislative day until November, Gov. Quinn's bid to borrow $3.7 billion to pay for state pensions stalled in the Senate, where GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady and fellow Republicans with held support.

"We've been able to stave off more pension borrowing on the backs of our children and grandchildren," said Brady, of Bloomington.

Senate President John Cullerton said he was shy of the 36 votes needed to pass the governor's pension-borrowing plan and placed blame on Brady for working against the measure while not offering a plan of his own to deal with the budget crisis.

Cullerton said he needs two GOP votes to pass the borrowing plan and opted against keeping senators in Springfield to give Quinn more time to lobby Republicans. Cullerton did not rule out a June return.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) predicted such a move would be futile because none of her members likely would switch sides on the borrowing to pay the state's hefty pension tab for a second year in a row.

"My members just think it's very bad policy, and if the Democrats feel this is the way to go, they should put the votes on it. They have the votes to pass it," said Radogno.

Two Democrats are opposed, and a third was absent Thursday.

Meanwhile, by a 42-8 vote, the Senate overwhelmingly signed off on a Quinn-backed initiative setting up a nine-day sales-tax "holiday" in August on school supplies. GOP estimates place the cost of the tax suspension at $50 million.

"There are numerous other states that have done this, and from their reports and from what we're looking at, they've been able to recoup that cost," said Sen. Deanna Demuzio (D-Carlinville), the chief Senate sponsor and a top GOP target.

Quinn touted the sales-tax holiday as "a pro-consumer effort that will give families a much-needed break," but warned, "Our task is not complete, and there's more that must be accomplished before this session officially ends.

The Senate also sent Quinn a package granting him emergency budget-cutting and borrowing powers. It also had provisions to cut the pay and mileage and lodging reimbursements for the governor and other state officials, small-ticket items with symbolic power heading into the campaign season.