CHICAGO (AP) – Gov. Pat Quinn launched a website Sunday outlining a brief history of public pensions, its fiscal problems and ways to discuss solutions through social media, part of the Chicago Democrat’s long-awaited campaign to build public support for an overhaul of Illinois’ underfunded pension system.
The website, http://thisismyillinois.com, includes an at times tongue-in-check video that shows a simplified history of pensions dating back to ancient Rome. It also details the state’s five public pension systems and says online town hall meetings to give feedback are coming soon.
State officials said Sunday that the idea is to provide details about Illinois’ fiscal problems in an easy-to-comprehend way and allow the public to give feedback. It’s called the “Thanks in Advance” campaign, which is purportedly a message from the next generation to today’s politicians, and the website has links to Twitter and a Facebook page.
“Using the tools of social media, it’s a way for the next generation ... to send a message to today’s leaders about the need to act in this pressing issue,” Quinn said at a news conference. “The issue of pension reform is the most urgent issue of our time, certainly of our decade.”
Quinn, who has vowed to overhaul the state’s pension problem, has been promising details of his so-called grass-roots campaign since August, but pushed back the timeline several times.
Illinois lawmakers have failed to come up with a plan to deal with the roughly $85 billion funding gap, the largest shortfall of any state in the nation. Talks between legislative leaders have gone nowhere and a special session on pension reform earlier this year was unproductive.
Part of the problem has been disagreement on the approach.
Quinn and other Democrats support a plan where suburban Chicago and downstate schools begin picking up their own pension costs, which the state currently pays. Chicago Public Schools already pays its own pension costs. Illinois Republicans have largely opposed shifting the costs, saying such an approach would cause property taxes to rise.
The governor has said now that the Nov. 6 elections are over, he hopes lawmakers will address the issue. They meet later this month.
The governor didn’t offer details on what was next after the launch of his campaign. He said he hoped to start public dialogue.
Quinn has said he believes a pension overhaul can be passed by the end of the legislative session, which is in January.
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