Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, pictured here in Peoria earlier this month, fielded reporters' questions on competing pension reform ideas and a plan to expand gambling in the state, including adding a casino in Chicago. (Brian Powers-Sun Times Media)
SPRINGFIELD-The following is a transcript from Gov. Pat Quinn's answers to reporters' questions following an Illinois police memorial ceremony at the state Capitol in Springfield on Thursday. Quinn weighed in on House Speaker Michael Madigan's (D-Chicago) latest pension package as well as a gambling expansion plan, which includes a Chicago casino, that passed the Senate Wednesday.
Q: How do you like the gambling expansion bill?
A: "Well, it has some improvements. I was glad that they put in the ban on campaign contributions from casino operators."
"I think there are other things that can be worked on. That's why we have two houses of the Legislature. We certainly plan to work with the House and try to make the bill as good as it should be."
Q: Where does the bill need improvement?
A: "Well, we're going to be working with the House members in the areas I think are important, which are ethical oversight, making sure that revenues are adequate for education of our whole state. There are going to be revenues. We want to make sure it's focused on education and important for public purposes, and I think it's important to hear from House members as well what their thoughts are."
Q: Is there enough time left in the session to get a bill passed?
A: "Well, you have to do it right the first time. And so until it's absolutely right, then I don't plan to sign anything. I think there's adequate time this month to work together on a good bill, and I think progress has been made. I look forward to continued progress, and I think eventually when the bill goes through the House there will be improvements and we can hopefully get to the final product that will be the best way to go."
Q: Is there too much 'pork' in the bill?
A: "No, I don't think so. If we're going to have proceeds of gaming, I certainly want to make sure that education is not forgotten. So, I think that is an area that needs some improvement."
"You've got to have close oversight over priorities. The top priority is education."
Q: Have you been apprised at all of the so-called union proposal on pension reform?
A: "You know, I haven't seen that. I heard about it. I haven't seen it, so I look forward to looking at it."
Q: Where do you think we are on pensions right now?
A: "I think good progress. I think the bill that came out of committee in the House yesterday had the things that I talked about a year ago - that we had to address retirement age and the cost-of-living adjustment and employee contribution. Those are all principles that I talked about. I think also the guarantee that the state never do what it has done in the past, which is not pay its proper amount. Those are all elements of pension reform that I think are very good, and I sure hope the House acts today. We've never had a comprehensive bill passed by either house covering all the important pension systems and covering it in a comprehensive way. So if that happens today, that'll be a very good step forward."
Q: What does it mean if a bill reaches your desk without union support? Would you sign it?
A: "Well, we have a bicameral Legislature. There's two houses of the Legislature, and I respect that. I think it's important for the executive branch to let both houses of the Legislature have their look at any issue, whether it's gaming or pension reform or anything else. So, the Senate is going to be taking up a bill if it passes the House. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. We've never, ever passed a bill out of either house. And so today is an opportunity, I think, in the vote in the House of Representatives to finally get a comprehensive pension bill passed. So that would be a step forward."
Q: This is your preferred bill, though?
A: "Well I want to make sure that everybody has their say in both houses of the Legislature. I respect the Senate. I respect the House. I think it's important for a governor to do that, to always have members of both houses weigh in and give their point of view."
Q: What do you do to get it through the Senate?
A: "Well, we have to do it. The sooner it's done the better. I do think it's important that both houses of the Legislature know that it's imperative this month that we pass a bill through both houses that comes to me so I can sign it into law. So, I want to make that point very clear to all the members of the Legislature. We cannot delay. We cannot postpone. Our moment in history to get new pension reform is right now."
Q: Why not include judges in the bill?
A: "There are some constitutional principles that are in the Illinois Constitution that make that more difficult. The judges have a little different status, and there's been a court case, a supreme court case that's already addressed that matter."
Q: Are you prepared to sign pensions the way it is sitting in the House now?
A: "Wel,l I think we need to pass a bill through the House, hopefully today that vote takes place. That'll be a historic moment for our state of Illinois. At least one house of the Legislature is voting for comprehensive pension reform. It then goes to the next house, and they should have their chance to address the issue. But the bottom line for me and I think for the taxpayers and people of Illinois is to get the job done this month. We must have, through both houses of the Legislature, a final bill that arrives on my desk that I will promptly and quickly sign and move our state forward."
Q: If it passes and gets to your desk, is it because of your efforts or in spite of them?
A: "Well, I was speaking about this issue all year long, and for that matter I signed a bill in 2010 dealing with future employees. I did that, and I'm going to do the current employees as soon as the bill arrives. It's a team effort. I think the Legislature and the executive branch have to team up in order to do this reform. I believe in that. I will say that I'm the first governor to pay the proper pension amount every year I've been governor. That didn't happen before I arrived, and that's one of the reasons our state was in such a hole. Previous governors failed to pay the previous amount. Previous legislators didn't appropriate the proper amount, and I'm here to straighten that out. And so, I think the people will judge accordingly."