Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Gridlock over public pensions appears likely to continue

By Jamey Dunn

The Illinois House and Senate appear poised for the possibility of approving dueling pension legislation yet again.

Both chambers are scheduled to return to Springfield next week for a special session on public employee pensions. Senate President John Cullerton said earlier this week that he plans to move a compromise bill that would contain a plan approved by the House but would also tack on a measure the Senate passed in case the Illinois Supreme Court agrees with Cullerton’s opinion that House Speaker Michael Madigan’s plan is unconstitutional. If the court tosses Madigan's plan, Cullerton’s bill would become the law. Cullerton said he does not know whether he will have the votes in the Senate to pass this hybrid idea, which he originally pitched months ago. And on Monday, Madigan said he would not commit to calling the combined bill in the House.

It also appears that Madigan does not plan to call a vote on the union-backed proposal that the Senate passed. Although that bill is scheduled for a House committee hearing on Tuesday, a new amendment has been added that would gut the measure and replace it with Madigan’s plan. The amendment would not take effect until next year, so it would not require a three-fifths majority and could pass with the same number of votes that it did the first time around.

Cullerton has been calling on Madigan to allow a vote on the Senate plan in the House and predicted it could pass in that chamber with enough votes for an immediate effective date. “It’s unfortunate that members of the House haven’t had the opportunity to vote on a pension bill that passed the Senate with overwhelming support,” Rikeesha Phelon, a spokeswoman for Cullerton, said in response to the new amendment. “Cullerton is still advancing the compromise bill.” Madigan previously used an amendment to swap his preferred language for Cullerton’s initial compromise bill, but the two spoke at that time, and Cullerton gave his blessing before the change.

Madigan made his thoughts on the compromise plan clear on Monday. “This is like a lot of things in the legislature. You can make it complicated if you wish, or you can keep it simple,” he told reporters in Chicago. He said he would prefer to keep it simple. “The best pension bill passed so far, and the one that does the most cost savings, is the House bill. That’s in the Senate. The governor ought to work to get that passed.” Madigan’s plan failed in the Senate on the last day of the spring session, and Cullerton said the votes just aren’t there to pass it. He said Monday that he is bringing the compromise bill forward at Quinn’s request.

Quinn has publicly supported both options in the past, and at this point, he may take any pension changes he can get. “Nobody has been fighting harder or doing more for pension reform than Gov. Quinn, and he will continue to press legislators, as he has all session, to vote for comprehensive pension reform,” Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for Quinn, said in a written statement. “The governor has always supported [Madigan's plan], and he has been meeting with all sides this week in pursuit of a compromise that would put comprehensive pension reform on his desk. Yesterday, the governor met with both Republican leaders, and the day before, he met with both Democrat leaders. The governor plans to meet with all four leaders this week.”

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