Illinois governor compares fixing union pensions to Lincoln abolishing slavery

Gov. Pat Quinn says that it is as hard for him to fix Illinois' pension mess as it was for Lincoln to abolish slavery. Photo: AP

CHICAGO, Illinois November 17, 2012 – Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has one tough battle ahead of him – one he believes is just as difficult as the one President Abraham Lincoln waged to abolish slavery in the 1860s:

Illinois pension reform. 

Quinn, a history buff, was asked over the weekend if he had seen the new Steven Spielberg biopic, “Lincoln.”

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn Source: AP

“I’ve already seen it. It’s an excellent movie,” remarked Quinn to the media. “If you want to see how Democracy works, see that movie. You will appreciate the battle to get pension reform if you see the movie and see how hard it was to abolish slavery and get that amendment for the people. And they went to great lengths to use the Democratic process properly.”

But using the Democratic process properly is the issue for Quinn.

The crisis of unfunded public pension liabilities is splitting the state in two, dividing brother against brother.

Union against Democrat lawmaker. 

Special interests against the taxpayer.

But the Civil War-era comparisons do not end there.

“Pension reform is indispensable. I’m 63-years-old and I can say that my entire lifetime, Illinois has had a pension challenge, pension difficulties. It’s been around for 70 years, it’s been aggravated by recent governors,” said Quinn. “That’s how we got $90 billion plus in liability. We must come together in the next two months and solve the problem.”

So will the schism of Illinois special interests ever reconcile?

Not likely.

Illinois, downgraded twice in the last year by Standard & Poors, has the worst credit rating in its history and is second only to California in poor credit.  

Moody’s has rated Illinois worst-in-the nation.  

Illinois pensions gobbled up $6.75 billion – almost all - of the state’s revenue this year. Next year, the cost will rise by another billion.

If President Obama and Congress cannot reach a deal on the fiscal cliff, Illinois could face another billion in losses through tax increases and budget cuts to state agencies.

Just five years ago, the state’s unfunded pension obligations were only $20 billion. But this week, the Civic Federation of Chicago recently upgraded its estimate from $83 billion to a whopping $96.9 billion. 

The out-of-control liability continues to grow with skipped payments, pension perks and early retirement.

Democrats have been in control of the state legislature since 1983 and strengthened their political hand on Nov. 6, gaining veto-proof supermajority control. 

So the proverbial pension reform ball is once again in the Democrat’s court and to Illinois taxpayers and businesses that generally means one thing: tax increases are on the way.

Back on January 1, 2011, Illinois Democrats and Republicans joined in passing i.e. sneaking through a late night 67% increase in the personal income tax rate – the largest in the state’s history.

They promised it would be temporary. 

But that was then, this is now.  

Back in August, after the state legislature’s twice-failed attempts at pension negotiations, the Chicago Tribune asked in an editorial: What does ‘temporary’ really mean?

Does ‘temporary’ mean ‘permanent’?

Well, does it?

If Quinn and the Democrats go back on their word to Illinois taxpayers, they may have a real war on those unionized hands.

William J. Kelly is an Emmy award-winning TV producer and conservative columnist. He is also a contributor to the American Spectator and He is a native from Chicago’s Southside.

Email questions to him at Find him on Facebook/Williamjpkelly 

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William Kelly


Conservative commentator, satirist, and radio talk show host William J. Kelly pens the “Kelly Truth Squad” and “The Tea Party Report” for the Washington Times Communities and is a contributor to the American Spectator and Kelly is also a producer of Emmy award-winning TV and received an Emmy nomination himself for outstanding achievement on-camera. He was previously the Executive Director of the National Taxpayers United of Illinois, a taxpayer watchdog group. He is a native of Chicago’s South side. For more information, visit

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