A frustrated Gov. Pat Quinn has once again changed strategies in his effort to get a pension reform bill on his desk as he acknowledged Friday he’s “prepared to do whatever necessary” to try to break a deadlock between his fellow Democratic leaders.
Earlier this week, Quinn was pushing a plan that would combine dueling House and Senate pension proposals into one and let the courts sort it out. On Friday, the Democratic governor said talks with lawmakers indicated there wasn’t enough support for that idea, so he now wants the Senate to vote on a sweeping pension overhaul that’s already passed the House.
The measure, backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, is the one Quinn has most strongly supported in the past. But it received just 16 votes when senators voted on the plan two weeks ago. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said he’s willing to call the measure for a vote again, but said there’s little to indicate that it has picked up more support since then.
The bill would now need 36 votes to pass out of the 59 state senators. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Springfield on Wednesday for a special session on the pension issue.
“The people of Illinois are frustrated with the failure of the legislature to enact a comprehensive public pension reform bill,” Quinn said following a nearly two-hour long meeting with legislative leaders on Friday. “So as governor of Illinois I am prepared to do whatever necessary to get this bill on my desk. But they are the legislature. They have to do their job so I can do mine. Their job is unfinished. And we’re going to keep pushing them and pushing them until they do their job.”
But in a nod that the bill is unlikely to pass, Quinn also has asked the legislative leaders to allow lawmakers to form a so-called conference committee to continue working toward a pension compromise.
It’s a rare move at the Capitol that would designate five legislators from each chamber – three Democrats and two Republican – to resolve differing pension approaches. Lawmakers must first vote to form the committee, and there’s no guarantee the group would be able to reach a deal.
Cullerton said he’s open to the idea, but Madigan said he “concerned it’s an effort by the governor to distance himself from the process.”
It could also be an attempt to do an end-run around Madigan, who is known for his tight control over every move the House makes. As such, he’s shouldered much of the blame for the inaction on pension reform, with Democrats and Republicans alike wondering if he’s purposely stalling in an effort to make Quinn look bad as his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, ponders a potential Democratic primary challenge.
Madigan dismissed that suggestion, saying “I think that I work hard at being the speaker, and sometimes I have success and sometimes I don’t.”
Meanwhile, Republicans say they are poised to offer their support for pension reform, but are waiting for the ruling Democrats to get on the same page.
“I kind of felt like I was witnessing an awkward family fight,” Senate Republican Christine Radogno of Lemont said following Friday’s closed-door meeting. “It was uncomfortable and it’s clear there is not even close to an agreement between the Democrats. It was them sort of dancing around the problems they have.”