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Old 06-01-2010, 06:11 AM
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Mary Pat Campbell
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It looks as if the state Legislature can't even embrace the best of the worst ideas out there for handling a $13 billion deficit.
A plan to borrow $3.7 billion to make a required payment to the state pension systems stalled in the Senate Thursday after it became clear there weren't enough votes for passage. The measure passed the House, on a second try, on Tuesday.
Senate President John Cullerton told us he plans to reconvene the Senate in about two weeks. He hopes at least two yes Republican votes will materialize by then.
As of today, no Senate Republican has come out in support of borrowing in a show of solidarity with their caucus. Last year, 11 Republicans voted in favor of pension borrowing.
Skipping a pension payment costs much more than borrowing. If the state skips, it could lose at least $20 billion in investment income over 20 years. Borrowing $3.7 billion now would cost about $1 billion.
Illinois legislators ended their spring session Thursday without providing money for state pension systems, a decision that blows a nearly $4 billion hole in a budget already deep in the red.
Democratic leaders said they may return to the Capitol this summer if they can scrape together enough votes to approve a plan to borrow enough money to make the state's annual payment to retirement funds for many state employees.
Gov. Pat Quinn scolded legislators for adjourning without finishing their work.
"Our task is not complete, and there's more that must be accomplished before this session officially ends," the Democratic governor said in a statement.
With lawmakers unwilling to raise taxes or dramatically cut spending, the legislative session produced a budget -- with a $13 billion shortfall -- built on borrowing, unpaid bills and one-time revenue maneuvers. Lawmakers left many key spending decisions to Quinn.
A major state-employees union said taking the pension money out of the state's nearly empty treasury would do "grossly irresponsible" harm to other government programs. Union leaders believe Illinois should borrow money to make the pension payment.
"We believe the plan to borrow ... is the best of a series of bad options," said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the 40,000-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Senate Democrats said Thursday they had not found any Republicans willing to support the measure, which requires a three-fifths majority to pass. Democrats have a large enough majority to approve it if they were united, but some Democrats oppose borrowing.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said legislators could pass the borrowing plan this summer if Quinn can find some Republican support.
"They voted for it last year. It wasn't a bad idea last year," Cullerton said, suggesting the current opposition is political.
Republicans countered by saying they went along last year on the promise that more substantial budget reforms would be made this year. They said Quinn failed to follow through.
"There is no comprehensive solution. All he wants is to borrow more money now," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont.
It's STUMP - meep on public finance, pensions, mortality, and more

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