By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Unable to muster the 60 votes needed to reform state pension systems, the Illinois House adjourned Tuesday's lame-duck session without a solution for the state's worst-in-the nation financial mess.
Gov. Pat Quinn requested that lawmakers give him the authority to empower an independent commission to fix pension systems that have $96 billion in unfunded liability. Quinn's request was rebuffed and the Chicago Democrat's unofficial deadline for legislative action was missed.
"It's a runaway train that's out of control," said Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy.
Financial analysts said the train wreck could result in another downgrade in Illinois' bond rating, which already is the worst in the nation.
"When you're impacting people's retirement security, it's a tough vote, and people have a lot of different concerns about it," said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, who sponsored a pension fix that was never called for a vote.
Nekritz's bill called for higher employee contributions toward pension plans and lower benefits for retirees. Unions had opposed the plan and questioned whether it was legal because of wording in the state constitution that some believe guarantees benefit levels.
Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont pinned the failure to act on Democrats who "control everything in this building" with majority status in the House and Senate, as well as a Democrat in the governor's office.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, rejected questions about what reporters called the pension crisis.
"The pension system and the state are no way bankrupt," Cullerton said.
He added that the Senate had approved pension fixes previously and would have returned to the statehouse for a Tuesday vote if one had been needed to approve a House bill.
Tracy said the pension systems along with Medicaid are going to "squeeze out every other state vital service" if legislators don't come up with a path back to better funding.
House members did send Quinn legislation that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.
Quinn commended lawmakers for sending him "traffic safety legislation" that he has pledged to sign into law.
Tracy and Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, were among those voting against the license bill, which passed 65-46.
"What I was hearing from the many folks in law enforcement was that since they would not require fingerprints for those getting the licenses, we'll see fraud like they have in other states," Hammond said.
Tracy said hundreds of people let her know they opposed licenses for undocumented immigrants "who are not behaving legally."
Supporters of the bill say temporary licenses will require that illegal immigrants pass a driving test and maintain auto insurance. Officials estimate there are 250,000 immigrant drivers on Illinois highways now.
Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago, sponsored the bill which he first championed 14 years ago.
"It's historical for the immigrant community," Acevedo said.
Legislators who were elected in November will take their oaths of office today. Tracy, who has represented the 93rd District, will now represent the 94th District due to redistricting. Hammond will officially become the 93rd District House member.
Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, will be sworn in to replace the former Rep. Jim Watson, who retired last month after accepting a job as director of the Illinois Petroleum Council. Davidsmeyer was appointed to the 100th District seat by Republican Party county chairmen in the district.
Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, will be sworn in for his fourth term in office.