Quinn, Deadlines And Legislative Deadlock

Jul 8, 2013

Gov. Pat Quinn set his latest deadline for pension legislation — July 9 — in a Capitol news conference on June 19, 2013.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Tuesday is the latest deadline Governor Pat Quinn has set for overhauling Illinois' pension systems.

It's part of what's become an ongoing pattern: Quinn sets a deadline, the General Assembly fails to meet it, Quinn sets another deadline, et cetera. 

We asked Brian Mackey to take a look at the phenomenon, and try to figure out what — if anything — it says about the governor.

It's Feb. 2 last year, and Gov. Quinn lays down an ultimatum in his State of the State address.

QUINN: "We must have Medicaid reform and public pension reform in the coming year."

"This year" was 2012, and while lawmakers did slash the Medicaid budget, pensions are still unresolved. Deadlines set and deadlines unmet would become a recurring theme in the subsequent year-and-a-half, beginning with last summer's special session.

QUINN (July 30, 2012): "What we have to do, in Springfield, next month, Aug. 17, is come together in the best traditions of Illinois democracy, roll up our sleeves, and resolve this problem once and for all."

[MUSIC] MACDONALD CAREY: "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the 'Days of Our Lives.' "

QUINN (Dec. 7, 2012): "So it's very, very important that between now and Jan. 9 at noon, high noon …"
(Jan. 4, 2013): "... by next Tuesday midnight ..."
(May 27, 2013): "… by this Friday midnight ..."
(June 7, 2013): "… between now and the 19th of this month ..."
(June 19, 2013): "And I've set July 9, that's a Tuesday, as a deadline for the General Assembly to propose a comprehensive pension reform."

The governor says there will be consequences if the legislature misses the deadline. But the question is: What are they? In the past, the answer has been 'nothing.' And with the latest deadline, there's no reason to think it'll be any different.

The most recent vehicle for getting some kind of resolution on pensions has been a conference committee — a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House and Senate. At a recent hearing, members of the committee were not successful in getting the administration to say just what consequences Quinn has in mind. And, asked by reporters, Quinn didn't have much more to say himself.

QUINN: "I'm going to continue to do my job, and I expect the legislature to do their job. And if they don't do their job, they have a lot of explaining to do to the people of Illinois."

RICKY RICARDO: "Now Lucy, if you just give me a chance to 'splain."
LUCY RICARDO: "Alright, alright, I want to be fair about this. 'Splain."

So what does this say about the governor? Is it a wise strategy? What else could Quinn be doing? I called Chris Mooney, a professor of political studies at the University of Illinois Springfield, and asked him to 'splain.

MOONEY: "There's two interpretations. One of them, and I think the predominant one and the most obvious one, is that it reduces his credibility, and reduces his apparent efficacy in the legislative process. … It's like the parent that tells the kid, 'If you touch that, you're going to your room. Oh oh uh, if you touch that again, you're going to your room.' The kid realizes pretty quick that the parent's not going to do anything about it."

MARGE SIMPSON: "This is the worst thing you've ever done."
HOMER SIMPSON: "You say that so much it's lost all meaning."

This is a popular view. On the other hand, Mooney says that by playing the role of the "scolding schoolmaster," Quinn can argue that if he hadn't been pushing lawmakers, certain things wouldn't have happened.

MOONEY: "And the current pension debate or discussion this summer I think is the most obvious example of something that's plausible that was driven by his deadlines."

This is the view Quinn has taken. Back in January — a few hours after an earlier blown deadline — reporters asked the governor whether he was weakening himself by setting deadlines in which he has little control as to whether they're met.

QUINN: "Not really. I think you have to have deadlines in life. Sometimes you make those deadlines and sometimes you have to keep working, keep running."

Indications are for pensions, the finish line is still a ways off. Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Democrat from Chicago, is chairman of that pension conference committee. Last week in Chicago, he said there was no way lawmakers could meet Quinn's July 9 demand. He says he hopes Quinn's latest rigid deadline is in fact a bit more more limber.

RAOUL: "Not just a woman has the prerogative to change her mind, a governor has that prerogative as well. So I appreciate the governor's ability to be flexible in the past, and I imagine he'll be flexible with regards to the July 9 deadline."

So if — or rather when — the legislature fails to send a pension bill to the governor's desk on time, the next question is: Will Quinn set another deadline? Surely, we'll find out tomorrow.

Or maybe we won't.