On this week's "Chicago Newsroom," Governor Pat Quinn offered clear, direct support for an elected school board, contrary to Mayor Emanuel's position. He also said that closing so many elementary schools all at once can be "dangerous." Here's host Ken Davis' description of the program:
Governor Pat Quinn offered a serious admonition to Chicago Public Schools leadership about closing 50-some elementary schools when he stopped by for a special edition of Chicago Newsroom on Friday.
"That has to be done with extreme care," he warned. "I would recommend to the school board of Chicago to take this in a very careful manner and not to do anything that's hasty or ill-conceived. To try and do it all in a very short period of time I think is dangerous."
But he went further, saying he also feels that very board should be replaced by an elected body.
"Ninety five percent of the school boards in America are elected by the people," he told us -- in direct disagreement with Mayor Emanuel -- "And I think the Chicago Board of Education which for years has been appointed, it would serve us well to have an elected school board... Don't you think that if we had an elected school board in Chicago, where I live, that more of the issues of education would be debated by folks who are elected by their fellow citizens? I think that's a healthy process."
Turning to the approximately $100 billion in pension liabilities the state faces, Quinn said he supports the pension reform bill sponsored by Rep. Nekritz that recently passed in the Illinois House. It's a highly controversial bill that's strongly opposed by many unions.
Quinn said that he agrees with key elements of the Nekritz bill, such as slowly increasing retirement age. "For younger people today you might have a little bit later retirement age when it's time for them to retire," he said. "And another one is to have a limit on how much money can be -- they call it -- pensionable. Social Security says it's about $113,000, and I think that's something we'll do in Illinois."
He also addressed cost-of-living adjustments, which he says need to be revisited. "The basic pension amount, I don't think anyone should touch. But the cost of living adjustment should be accurate. Right now in Illinois it's above the cost of living," he said.
Quinn says that in each of his years as governor he has made the required pension contribution, something ignored by previous administrations. "I think you need to write into law that the state can never again have "holidays".
Addressing automatic access to state health-care, he says "there's no automatic access to the state health-care system when you retire. Now the system is set up where there'll be a co-pay of some kind that's going to be set up by administrative rule... unlike other states we didn't have any kind of co-pay for those who are covered under the system, and we can't afford that any more. We can't afford a system where people get 100 percent of their retirement health care paid for by all the taxpayers."
He describes himself as optimistic that meaningful pension "reform" will pass. "Oh, yeah. I think this year a lot of the legislators ran in the last campaign on pension reform. The message is getting out that this needs to be done."
Quinn recently signed a law on sentencing policy reform that's supposed to change the kinds of offenses that can land, or keep, an offender in state prison.
"For folks who have committed a crime and have to pay a consequence, we want to make sure that if it's a non-violent crime... that we really don't treat everybody in a manner that just throws all the folks in state prison together," he says. " We work a lot with folks who have these alternative sentencing programs. It's a big endeavor. It's going to take a little while to implement it. But I want to make sure that our state prisons are there to incarcerate hard-core prisoners who have committed grievous offenses that jeopardize the public safety. For those who have committed less-serious offenses, there may be other alternative punishments... It's very expensive to go to a state prison."
Asked about the recent series by WBEZ'S Rob Wildeboer about numerous prison issues, including the housing of hundreds of men in prison gymnasiums due to overcrowding, the Governor acknowledged, but downplayed the situation: "The Director of Corrections and the Warden have to do what's necessary to preserve order in the prison, preserve safety, and they were able to do that."
On the topic of an assault weapons ban, Quinn said: "Now I believe in gun safety and I think that means we need to reform our laws. We have to ban assault weapons, also high-capacity ammunition magazines that go with those weapons."