SPRINGFIELD — House Speaker Michael Madigan on Wednesday tried to increase the pressure on fellow Democrats in the Senate to get behind his version of pension reform and abandon their own as they head into Gov. Pat Quinn’s special session next week.
The Democratic governor wants lawmakers to vote on a bill that would combine the dueling House and Senate pension reform plans and let the courts determine what’s legal.
But Madigan made his position clear when he set a Tuesday hearing at the Capitol to remove Senate President John Cullerton’s rival pension plan from a bill pending in the House and sub in the speaker’s own proposal. That’s not what the governor wanted. The move signaled
Madigan is more interested in pushing Cullerton and Quinn toward rounding up more Senate votes for the speaker’s plan than reaching a compromise.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker stands by his version, which would reduce pension costs by about $187 billion over 30 years — about three times that of the Cullerton legislation. “It really is the best approach to take,” Brown said.
Before his latest proposal to vote on the combined plan, Quinn had most strongly backed Madigan’s version. On Wednesday, Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Madigan and Cullerton must work in good faith toward a resolution, repeating the administration’s estimate that the stalemate over pensions costs Illinois $17 million a day.
Quinn met separately with the Democratic leaders on Monday and Republican leaders on Tuesday, Anderson said.
Madigan has pushed through the House a proposal that would require workers to kick in more from their paychecks, scale back cost-of-living increases on retirement checks and raise the retirement age. In turn, Cullerton pushed through the Senate a proposal that gave workers a choice, such as giving up health care to keep full pension benefits, as a way to meet a constitutional test that pension benefits cannot be diminished or impaired once established. Cullerton has maintained Madigan’s plan is unconstitutional, but the speaker has contended his would be upheld.
Madigan’s committee hearing is scheduled for the day before Wednesday’s special session. Madigan would replace the Cullerton proposal with the speaker’s own plan with one change. It would push back the effective date of the bill to next year, a change that would allow the plan to pass both chambers with only a simple majority vote. The plan Madigan already sent to the Senate would need a three-fifths vote because lawmakers missed the May 31 deadline to pass a bill that could take effect sooner.
Cullerton already called Madigan’s plan in the Senate once shortly before the deadline, and it only garnered 16 of the 30 votes needed to pass. Getting to 30 votes for the Madigan plan may be tough, but the speaker wants Quinn and Cullerton to coax senators to go along.
“If you look closely at the roll call, there are a lot of senators who could be lobbied heavily on this issue,” Brown said. “We'll take another crack at passing the bill.”
Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said Madigan’s maneuver may delay or derail any compromise. “At this point there is no clear indication that a resolution will be reached by next week since the speaker has made no commitment to call Cullerton's pension plan or a compromise bill,” she said in a written statement.
Furthermore, Phelon said, the president still thinks House members should get to vote on the Senate version as it had “passed overwhelmingly” in the upper chamber in the session.