SPRINGFIELD-A House panel gave reluctant sign-off Tuesday to a last-ditch plan by Gov. Pat Quinn to salvage some semblance of pension reform by advancing legislation setting up a super-committee to sort out the state's $95 billion pension crisis.
Hoisting what one critic called a "desperate Hail Mary," Quinn took the highly unusual step of personally going in front of the House Personnel & Pension Committee Tuesday afternoon to push a new idea of his to create an eight-member panel of legislative appointees to fix Illinois' pensions.
"We still are searching for the solution," Quinn told the panel. "And it's time, I think, to realize under this emergency -- where we have a situation where our credit rating is in dire jeopardy, it's already been downgraded on numerous occasions, we're looking at unfortunately perhaps another downgrade -- we have to take an extraordinary action to help break the gridlock."
The panel Quinn proposes would be like the federal military base closure commission and stocked by appointees made by the four legislative leaders. It would make recommendations on pension changes that could only be disapproved by majorities in the House and Senate and signed into law by the governor.
Under Quinn's plan, the panel would have to make a report to the General Assembly by April 30.
"It's something we need to use to move forward in Illinois," Quinn told the committee.
The House panel approved sending it to the floor by a 7-2 vote but not before House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) politely sliced the governor's plans to pieces on constitutional grounds.
"When the governor of this state has had the good grace to present a propsal to this committee, we have a certain responsibility to take his ideas and him quite seriously," Currie said in explaining why she would vote to send his proposal to the House floor.
But then came this from the No. 2 House Democrat: "I have serious reservations ... as to the constitutionality of the program."
Public-employee unions lined up against the governor's plan, saying, like Currie, it was an unconstitutional abrogation of the Legislature's authority.
"I'd characterize this as a desperate Hail Mary pass," said Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.