By KERRY LESTER
Associated PressNovember 10, 2013
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Legislature wrapped up its official 2013 calendar last week after voting to legalize gay marriage, but it made little progress on fixing the state’s pension crisis, gun control, ethics reform and other parts of Gov. Pat Quinn’s agenda.
Shortly after lawmakers sent Quinn a bill allowing Illinois to join 14 other states and hold same-sex weddings as early as next summer, they abruptly ended their fall veto session with much unfinished business as the 2014 primary elections begin to heat up.
The governor’s spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson, argues that several of Quinn’s top priorities were accomplished earlier in the year. Among them were an expansion of Medicaid in parallel with the Obama administration’s health care overhaul, the adoption of online registration for voters, and the closing of loopholes in the private sale or transfer of firearms. She noted lawmakers upheld several of his vetoes — though they quickly overrode his rejection of the state’s historic legislation allowing the concealed-carry of weapons.
“We got a lot done this session that the governor proposed,” Anderson said.
But Quinn has repeatedly pinned the blame for inaction for the state’s $100 billion pension crisis on legislators, and has said he will continue to push on issues such as guns and the minimum wage.
Lobbyists and lawmakers leaning against the Capitol rotunda’s rails last week speculated about a special session by year’s end to take up unfinished business. But legislative leaders may be cautious about taking up more controversial issues as rank-and-file lawmakers face voters.
Here’s a closer look at the unfinished business Quinn laid out in his state of the state address last spring:
When lawmakers were sworn in on Jan. 9, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton both told the newcomers that the biggest problem they would face was dealing with the pension crisis.
“This issue has lingered for generations and threatens to doom future generations if something isn’t done,” Cullerton said.
The systems’ unfunded liability is higher than ever and close to $100 billion, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability told The Associated Press last week.
Quinn has repeatedly blamed lawmakers for inaction on the pension crisis, and moved to halt their pay over the summer because of their inaction, a tactic that was later found unconstitutional by the courts. Meanwhile, a bipartisan committee has spent five months hammering out a deal.
Although legislative leaders have said they’ve made progress, no consensus plan has been announced.
Madigan says he’s prepared to pass a “meaningful” pension reform bill and he hopes it will happen before the end of the year. He has declined to say whether a special session would be scheduled at a politically safer time — following the early December deadline for challengers to file petitions with the state board of elections.
MINIMUM WAGE HIKE
“Nobody in Illinois should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty. That’s a principle as old as the Bible,” Quinn said in February.
He has repeatedly called for lawmakers to raise the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour — a proposal bound to resurface during the campaign. However, opponents have fought it hard, and a bill hasn’t even gotten out of committee.
Republicans and business groups say raising the minimum wage kills jobs. Both the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce have announced their opposition.
Illinois last raised its minimum wage in 2010. Its $8.25 rate is the highest among Midwestern states, a dollar more than Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin.
“We must prohibit the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines in Illinois,” Quinn told lawmakers.
But the issue died quickly.
The firearms issue of the spring instead became a victory for gun-rights advocates when lawmakers ended Illinois’ last-in-the-nation ban on the carrying of concealed weapons.
This fall, guns were a focus again, as Democratic Rep. Michael Zalewski of Riverside pushed a measure backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to impose stiffer penalties on ex-cons and known gangbangers caught with illegal guns.
In the end, black members of the House halted the measure through a procedural move. The members of the Legislative Black Caucus feared young men in black and Latino communities would be disproportionately imprisoned, without the possibility of rehabilitation or alternative sentencing.
Zalewski promises to push ahead while Quinn and black lawmakers asked for a “comprehensive” approach to state gun laws. And when concealed carry permits are issued beginning early next year, there could be even more debate on how the system is regulated and monitored.
Quinn has called on the Legislature to join the ranks of more than 30 other states that have banned conflict of interest voting, but the Legislature hasn’t yet acted on his call.
Meanwhile, an investigation into Madigan’s role in a Chicago-area transit agency scandal has renewed scrutiny of an ethics law deemed “toothless” by the Legislature’s own ethics chief.
Madigan this summer asked the Legislative Ethics Commission to review whether he violated any rules when he asked the Metra rail agency for a pay hike for an associate who had raised campaign money for him, and a separate accusation that he sought a job for another associate. He says he is confident he did nothing wrong.
The eight-member commission has taken up the case. But it is working under a 1967 law that critics say is too vague on what constitutes a conflict of interest or other ethical violation, lacks sufficient penalties to enforce ethical.
Tom Homer, the state’s legislative inspector general, is hoping the case brings more attention to his campaign to persuade lawmakers to strengthen the ethics law by publicizing investigations and allowing the censure and even suspension of lawmakers.
AP Political writer John O’Connor contributed to this story.