Quinn offers new pension proposal, but fate in legislature uncertain
Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn is asking lawmakers to approve a plan that has previously stalled in the state senate. He has called legislators back to Springfield next week for a special, one-day session to address pension reform after they adjourned for the summer without sending a bill to the governor’s desk for approval.
Quinn met privately for two hours on Monday with Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, both Chicago Democrats. Quinn’s plan is one Cullerton had supported, in which two rival pension reform plans are attached to the same bill. That way, if one plan is found unconstitutional by the courts, then the second plan would be put into effect.
“We put one idea after another before both houses of the legislature,” Quinn said. “There’s a way to accomplish it if the two leaders work together as they have over and over again over the last several years.”
Cullerton said he’s willing to try Quinn’s idea. Cullerton had pitched the plan of putting both pension reform bills on one single piece of legislation months ago, but the plan stalled earlier this year. On Monday, Cullerton blamed The Civic Committee headed by former Illinois Attorney General Ty Fahner, for taking votes away from the plan.
“They’re the ones that killed the original Senate Bill 1, so they’ve gotta make a decision whether or not they want to support this new proposal that the governor’s asked me to try to pass,” Cullerton said.
But Speaker Madigan wouldn’t commit to calling the bill for a vote, telling reporters repeatedly that the governor can make the differences between the two pension proposals simple or complex. Madigan said he wants the governor to meet with individual state senators to pass the bill approved by the House, something labor unions oppose. He said that is the simple choice.
“When we passed the House pension bill, we didn’t have 60 votes to pass the bill until I had personal conversations with about 20 House members, persuaded them vote for the bill,” Madigan said. “That’s what we need the governor to do.”
The bill Madigan passed in the House of Representatives calls for a variety of cuts to retirement benefits for state employees, including raising the retirement age and reducing cost of living increases. Cullerton’s plan offers some state employees a choice between health care in retirement or cost of living increases. Many labor organizations favor Cullerton’s bill and have said Madigan’s plan is unconstitutional.
After Monday’s private meeting, Quinn suggested to reporters that Cullerton and Madigan may not be motivated to pass a pension reform bill.
“John Cullerton and Mike Madigan have known each other for 34 years. They’re close friends. They’re family friends,” Quinn told reporters Monday. “And when they want to put a bill on my desk that’s one of their priorities, they know how to do it.”
Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.