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Illinois House adjourns without passing bill to cut pensions

Gov. PQuinn speaks with reporters Capitol Friday. |  Seth Perlman~AP

Gov. Pat Quinn speaks with reporters at the Capitol on Friday. | Seth Perlman~AP

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Updated: October 17, 2012 1:51AM

SPRINGFIELD —The special legislative session to deal with Illinois’ great public-pension crisis wound up not being very special.

Only one sharply limited bill was introduced — and there weren’t even enough votes to pass that.

“We all look like idiots,” said Rep. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston. “I’ll say it again: We all — not (just) the governor, not (just) the other side, not (just) our side — we all look like idiots.”

Before the House adjourned late Friday afternoon, state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, introduced a largely symbolic pension-reform bill after talks between Gov. Pat Quinn and the four legislative leader failed to lead to any agreement to reel in pension benefits for those in four of the state’s five retirement systems.

Franks’ legislation would have targeted only state legislators and statewide officeholders.

But once the House took up the bill, the chances for a vote quickly dwindled.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, told lawmakers at about 4 p.m. he was going to allow only a parliamentary vote on Franks’ bill.

A test vote was held on the bill, and it showed there weren’t enough votes to pass it.

The Senate had already adjourned, leaving Quinn with a giant goose egg for the special session he called for lawmakers to solve the state’s $83 billion pension crisis.

Under Franks’ plan, existing and retired legislators and statewide officeholders would be given the choice of keeping either state-subsidized health insurance or an automatic, 3 percent annual pension boost in retirement, but not both.

And for new lawmakers after June 1, he said, pensions would be eliminated entirely.

“It’s certainly not what I want,” Franks told reporters. “I’d rather start with something rather than walk away empty-handed. I do think it gets the ball rolling in the right direction.

“I’m not saying this is a panacea. I’m not saying it is. It’s either this or nothing today,” Franks said.

The House had been poised to act on a Senate-passed bill that would have targeted existing and retired state workers and legislators, but Republicans withheld support, killing its chances for a Friday vote.

“I think we can go home to our constituents and say we’ve taken the first step, not a major step, not a stride, but certainly a first step toward solving the state’s fiscal problems,” House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said.

A spokeswoman for Quinn declined comment on the proposal, though the governor’s administration wants to walk away with something from the special legislative session he convened to deal with the state’s pension crisis.

Told of the proposal, Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, said she would be voting against it.

“This is not a joke. The people who come down here to serve as public servants, their lives should not be toyed with,” she said. “Nor should their families’ lives be toyed with. They’re entitled to make a decent living. No one is coming down here to be rich. But I’m not coming down here to become a mockery or ward of the state, either.

“These are my tax dollars,” she said. “Why do people think this is given for free?”

Friday’s developments came against the backdrop of continued union protests. Members of AFSCME Council 31, teachers and others in organized labor flooded the state Capitol, chanting against any attacks on their pensions.

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