The speaker's announcement late Wednesday capped a contentious day at the Capitol that included a face-off between the powerful Democratic speaker from Chicago and House Republican leader Tom Cross of Oswego. The two exchanged verbal jabs over the controversial issue of shifting pension costs from the state to local taxpayers. Tensions over Madigan's insistence on the shift and Cross' opposition bled over to other issues, including the state budget.
"I was surprised that the governor disagreed with me on the issue. He agrees with you. He agrees with the Republicans. He thinks that we ought to remove the issue of the shift of normal cost out of the bill," Madigan told the House. "I disagree with the governor, but he is the governor. This is his request."
So Madigan said he would drop his sponsorship of the pension reform package and make Cross the sponsor. Plans to remove the cost-shift language will be considered by a House panel Thursday morning, Madigan said.
The move came hours after Madigan and Cross sparred, with Cross saying Republicans would not support a budget plan that they had negotiated with Democrats because of the speaker's decision to push for the cost shift.
"We want to do pensions, but we have to do it right and without taxing Downstate and suburban property taxpayers," Cross said on the House floor. "For that reason, you will not see us supporting a budget."
But Madigan chastised Cross for trying to link the state budget to pension reforms.
"I did not take the position that I would not adopt a budget for the entire state of Illinois unless I got some other issue I selected," Madigan said angrily.
After Madigan backed off the cost shift, Quinn stopped short of declaring a victory on the issue of pension reform until a measure passes the House and Senate and "you land in the end zone."
As late as Wednesday morning, Quinn's budget director testified in favor of measures that contained the cost-shift provision. But Madigan said that at a morning meeting with Quinn, the governor communicated his changing viewpoint to the House speaker.
Aides to Cross said the Republican leader had no advance knowledge of Madigan's decision to back down on his demands. Both Cross and Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno of Lemont have said the only impediment to passing plans to reform the nation's most underfunded public pension system was the cost-shifting issue.
Unlike the pension plan for Chicago's public school teachers, which is funded by city property taxpayers, pensions for suburban and Downstate teachers are funded largely by state taxpayers. Madigan and others view it as an unfair state subsidy while suburban lawmakers note that Chicago Public Schools get a disproportionate share of state operating funds.
While the opposition to the cost-shifting plan was led by suburban Republicans, it was an issue that transcended party lines. Several suburban Democrats also opposed shifting costs to suburban property taxpayers as did many Downstate lawmakers of both political parties.
A key element of the pension reform plan is that legislators, state officials, state employees, teachers and community college and university workers hired before Jan. 1, 2011, will have a choice in their pension plan. The short version: Workers can opt for higher cost-of-living adjustments or guaranteed health care.
Meanwhile, House Democrats advanced their version of a new $33.7 billion spending plan that would cut money to schools, public universities and health care for the poor. Despite the belt-tightening, the state would spend about $300 million more compared with the current budget, according to House Democrats.
A new higher education spending plan came in at just under $2 billion, a decrease of about 6 percent from the current budget year, with reductions across state universities.
Cross said that when it became apparent Republicans would not support the budget, Democrats on Wednesday added an additional $50 million in spending on elementary and high schools to attract more Democratic support. Despite the additional money, elementary and secondary school funding would be cut about $210 million for the upcoming school year, a more than 3 percent drop to $6.5 billion.
Madigan said the budget plan is $4.4 million under a limit that House Democrats and Republicans had earlier agreed upon. The House voted 60-58 to approve its grade and high school funding plan.
It remained uncertain what Democrats, who also control the Senate, would do with the House-passed spending plans.
A week ago, Senate Democrats passed their own version of a state budget that Republicans contended would spend $500 million more than the House version.