May 09, 2013

Quinn: Madigan Pension Bill Deserves Senate Vote

Gov. Pat Quinn says House Speaker Michael Madigan's pension-reform plan deserves a Senate vote. The Democratic governor said the proposal is comprehensive.

Illinois has nearly $100 billion in pension debt because of years of state underfunding.

Senate President John Cullerton has a different idea he plans to call for a vote Thursday afternoon. Public employee unions back that proposal.

The House approved the Madigan bill last week. It would require employees to pay 2 percent more toward retirement benefits. It would reduce annual cost-of-living increases for retirees and raise the retirement age for workers under 45.

Cullerton's proposal would offer employees a choice between health insurance or cost-of-living increases. He says it would survive a court challenge.


May 05, 2013

Gov. Quinn Vetoes Electric Rate Hike Measure

Gov. Pat Quinn has rejected a plan to increase ComEd's and Ameren's electric rates by up to $70 million, a move backers say would help get so-called Smart Grid technology back on track.

The Chicago Democrat vetoed the plan Sunday saying the bill would have undermined electric utility oversight and force automatic rate increases on the public.

“I cannot support legislation that puts the profits of big electric utilities ahead of the families and businesses of Illinois,” Governor Quinn said, in a press release. “A strong economy that creates jobs requires stable energy costs, but this bill sends Illinois in the wrong direction. We cannot allow big utilities to force automatic rate hikes on the people of Illinois by going around oversight authorities each and every time they do not get the decision they want."

Quinn said with the $70 million, along with other rate increases the utilities are seeking, the average consumer would see an increase of $5-$6 a month.

ComEd touted the bill as a way to clarify language on 2011 legislation that let power companies raise rates to fund a high-tech system meant to help people conserve energy.

The Illinois Commerce Commission filed a lawsuit against ComEd over the plan's implementation.

The bill was meant to clarify issues in the suit, and required ComEd speed up its installation of smart meters.

Lawmakers could override Quinn's veto.
 


May 03, 2013

Gov. Quinn Nominates Two to SIU Trustees

Gov. Pat Quinn is nominating a former history professor and the retired head of the state's National Guard to the Southern Illinois University system's frayed board of trustees.

The selections of former Illinois Adjutant General Randal Thomas and former SIU-Edwardsville professor Shirley Portwood come three months after the Illinois Senate rejected three of Quinn's previous candidates.

But one of those lawmakers, Democratic Sen. Bill Haine of Alton, says he expects Senate confirmations of the latest nominees.

Quinn's newest picks were a compromise between him and members of the Illinois Senate.

In February the Senate overwhelmingly panned Quinn's appointments to replace three SIU board members whose terms expired.

Thomas and Portwood are expected to join the board at its meeting next Wednesday.


March 25, 2013

Quinn Wants Funding Guarantee in Pension Bill

Gov. Pat Quinn says any overhaul of Illinois' worst-in-the-nation pension problem should have a funding guarantee.

He spoke Monday just days after House lawmakers approved their third pension-related bill. The latest would reduce and delay cost-of-living increases in state employees' retirement pay. 

Pensions have been Quinn's top issue for more than a year. He says lawmakers' work last week was a step in the right direction but there's further to go.

Quinn says any reform package should address retirement age and pensionable salary.

Illinois has nearly $100 billion in unfunded pension debt because lawmakers skipped or shorted pension payments for years.

House lawmakers recently OK'd bills that would cap the salary on which benefits are based to the limit set for Social Security and delay the retirement age incrementally.


March 20, 2013

Measure Would Change U of I Trustee Appointment Process

Champaign Senator Mike Frerichs hopes to alter the method by which appointments are made to the University of Illinois’ Board of Trustees.

The Democrat says by allowing the alumni association to appoint five Trustees, while the governor appoints the other four, should create an effective hybrid to govern the U of I.  Currently the governor appoints all nine. 

Frerichs’ measure made it out of the Senate Higher Education Committee Tuesday with bipartisan support.

He noted there were concerns in the past when U of I trustees were elected, and more recent worries with gubernatorial appointments, namely Governor Pat Quinn’s efforts to name three trustees to the board at Southern Illinois University.

“The governor currently is responsible for making all the appointments, with the advice and consent of the Senate," Frerichs said.  "And you saw when he made those last three trustee appointments at SIU, the Senate did not concur with him.  I think this is a good idea for sharing power, and having some checks and balances in place.”

Last month, the Illinois Senate rejected Quinn’s appointments to SIU.  The school’s president, Glenn Poshard, and at least one senator alleges the governor became involved in efforts to choose an SIU board chairman.

Frerichs said he expects his U of I measure to go before the full Senate in two weeks, after legislators return from spring break.

Meanwhile, Quinn wants the Senate to take another look at his picks for the SIU Board.   None of the nominees received even a single "yes" vote. At an appearance in Springfield Tuesday, the governor said he was disappointed in how the Senate treated his picks.

"And I think the Senate needs to take another look at these excellent appointees," Quinn said.  But it's unlikely that will happen.

Senate President John Cullerton's spokeswoman confirms the chamber has no plans to reconsider its vote.  She said Senators view the issue as "closed."  That could force Quinn to come up with new nominations.

The SIU appointments have exposed a political fissure between Quinn and legislators.  Some Senators have complained the governor is trying to micromanage the board. 

There's also a regional issue. Legislators from the Metro East , where S-I-U's Edwardsville campus is located, say they deserve equal representation on the board.  S-I-U's main campus is in Carbondale. 

The rejected appointees are Sandra Cook of Collinsville, Lee Milner of Springfield and Dr. Melvin Terrell of Chicago.


March 19, 2013

AFSCME Union Ratifies New Pact with State

By a margin of 96 to four, members of Illinois' largest public employees' union voted to ratify a new contract with the state.

AFSCME and Governor Pat Quinn's administration reached a deal in late February. 

But in order for it to take effect, a majority of the union's more than 35,000 members had to agree to it.

AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said this may have been the toughest negotiations the union's ever experienced.

"Our members said all along that these are tough times," he said.  "We've negotiated contracts in good times and in bed with Governors who are Democrats and Republicans for 40 years in the state of Illinois.  This was a very contentious round of negotiations."

The contract gives employees pay raises the union says average out to 1-point-3 percent annually over the life of the three-year contract.

It also requires the state pay back wages to employees who were supposed to get them under the last contract, but who never did because lawmakers didn't appropriate the money.

Current and retired  workers will have to pay more for their health insurance.

“This is the best contract for all taxpayers in Illinois history,” said Gov. Pat Quinn, in a statement. “This contract recognizes the fact that the state is facing unprecedented financial challenges. I want to thank the members of AFSCME who approved the agreement and the women and men who negotiated at the table for more than a year to get this job done. Even in difficult times, the process can work. This is a win for all of our taxpayers and a win for state workers as we continue to move Illinois forward.”

Although AFSCME supported Quinn, a Democrat, in his last campaign, they have been at odds. 

The administration says the cost of the raises will be offset by the savings in health care expenses.


March 08, 2013

Gov. OKs Cutting Dozens of Boards, Commissions

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has authorized eliminating and consolidating dozens of state boards and commissions.

Quinn issued the order approving the shrinking of government groups Friday.

Quinn's directive eliminates various commissions whose work has been completed such as the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial and Ronald Reagan Centennial commissions.

It also lists commissions considered by his office as redundant or dormant.  This category includes a task force that studied racial profiling and the Chronic Disease Nutrition and Outcomes Advisory Commission.

The order consolidates three river coordinating councils as well.

Quinn says this executive order is another step toward increasing government efficiency in Illinois. He first announced the move Wednesday during his budget address before legislators.

Following the elimination, 317 boards and commissions remain under Quinn's authority.


March 04, 2013

Quinn: Budget 'Difficult' Due to Pension

Gov. Pat Quinn says the state budget he'll present this week will be "hard and difficult'' because of Illinois' massive pension debt.

The Democrat told reporters Monday he has to lay out the facts for the lawmakers to see the strain Illinois' nearly $100 billion in unfunded liability is going to affect other areas. He says that includes education.

Quinn gives his budget address Wednesday.

His administration has already projected a cut of about $400 million to education.  

Quinn says the agreement reached with the state's largest union last week is a good step forward.

After 15 months at the bargaining table, Quinn's administration and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees reached an agreement where workers will pay more of their health costs.

Wedneday's address will be carried live live at noon Wednesday on AM 580, with anaylsis from Illinois Public Radio.


March 03, 2013

Many Challenges as Quinn Inks Budget

Gov. Pat Quinn has a tough job ahead of him as he prepares to deliver his latest proposed budget Wednesday for a state in financial disarray.

Outside analysts in recent months have described Illinois' fiscal condition as "a deep hole,'' a "downspin'' and "not fiscally sustainable.''

Several factors have contributed to the state's budget mess.

Lawmakers have yet to find a solution for Illinois' $97 billion pension crisis.  That's caused annual payments to public-employee retirement funds to balloon to nearly 16 percent of the state's general funds budget. It likely means multimillion-dollar cuts to education and other areas.

Years of what critics call "budget gimmicks'' also has left Illinois with a $9 billion backlog of unpaid bills, and the state's economic recovery has been slow.

 Quinn's address is scheduled for noon Wednesday.  The speech will be carried live on AM 580, with analysis from Illinois Public Radio.


February 28, 2013

Gov. Quinn, AFSCME, Reach Tentative Agreement

Members of the largest state employee union in Illinois and Gov. Pat Quinn's administration have reached a tentative contract agreement.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said Thursday that a deal was reached after midnight. Quinn's office confirmed the agreement.

Details of the three-year contract weren't made public. AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall says members must review and ratify the agreement before it's made public.

Negotiations between AFSCME and Quinn's office have been contentious and union members had started preparing for a strike.

“AFSCME is very pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that protects our members’ standard of living, and is fair to them and all Illinois citizens, even in these very challenging economic times,” AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer said in a press release.

“At a time when the state is facing unprecedented financial challenges, this agreement is fair to both hard-working state employees and all taxpayers of Illinois," Gov. Quinn said. "I want to thank the women and men who have stayed at the table for more than a year for their commitment to reaching an agreement.”

The negotiations came as Quinn has been locked in several battles with AFSCME. 

The union opposes efforts to reduce their retirement benefits and increase their health insurance costs, which have been a central theme on pension overhaul talks. Also, the union is angry that Quinn withheld pay raises provided by the last contract.


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