Quinn defends pension, Medicaid reforms

April 23, 2012 3:36:47 PM PDT
Governor Pat Quinn said reforms to the state's pension and Medicaid programs are necessary to dig out of the $80 billion deficit.

"I really feel that it is a mission to straighten this out for the next generation," Gov. Pat Quinn said Monday.

Gov. Quinn said his proposals to reform the pension and Medicaid systems are critical not only for Illinois' fiscal health moving forward, but also toward determining his legacy as governor.

"I've done a lot of things with the help of a lot of people but I think these are two very important challenges that we have. We have to re-structure our Medicaid and strengthen the pension systems and if we do that we'll more money for education, for public safety, for human services," Gov. Pat Quinn said.

To help reduce the state's $83 billion pension shortfall, the governor wants the General Assembly to raise the state worker and teacher retirement age to 67 and to increase employee contributions by three percentage points.

"We want to make sure they have a decent retirement. I think that's what everybody wants. And I think we can accomplish all those goals without breaking the bank," Gov. Quinn said.

To offset a projected $2.7 billion Medicaid shortfall, Gov. Quinn proposed cuts in payments to hospitals, reduced services and a $1 a pack increase in the price of cigarettes to raise an additional $750 million in revenue.

Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno told the City Club on Monday her caucus could not support the tax.

"The problem is that it is a revenue solution to a spending problem," Radogno said.

"If we didn't do it that way, we'd have to cut $750 million, three quarters of a billion dollars, out of our education. We can't afford to do that, that's really harmful," Quinn said.

Still, Radogno said "generally speaking" she and other Republicans support the governor's plans.

"The Republicans have been for Medicaid and pension reform for years and I think we will bend over backwards to try to cooperate," Senator Kirk Dillard (R), Hinsdale, said.

Despite this being an election year, the governor wants General Assembly approval of both reform packages by May 31st.

"We've gotta do this. We can do it by statute, the General Assembly. We need 60 votes in the House and 30 votes in the Senate. If we get that we're on our way to heaven," Quinn said.

Neither of the governor's reform proposals have been put into bill form. The General Assembly reconvenes tomorrow in Springfield.

Senator Radogno said there is a "Cubs-like" optimism about resolving the pension and Medicaid issues this session. But he says there's no waiting 'til next year because Wall Street will lower the state's credit rating if nothing is done.