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Speaker Madigan drops cost shift for pension plan

After a long, frustrating day Wednesday, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan could be making way for public pension reform in Illinois.

Earlier this week, Madigan sponsored a pension reform bill in the House (SB 1673) that would have suburban and downstate school districts pick up the pension costs for their teachers. That could have shifted billions onto local tax rolls. That worried school districts statewide as to how they were going to pay for such an item.

“I think that there ought to be a shift in the responsibility for the normal cost so that going forward the people making the spending decisions will be called upon to pay the bills,” Madigan said on the House floor after a long day of debate and heated discussions on pension reforms with Gov.Pat Quinn and House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego.

Madigan knew Cross would be opposed to putting teacher pension payments on suburban and downstate districts.

And he was: Cross threatened to block passage of the state’s 2013 budget if Madigan didn’t move away from his cost-shift provision.

"Let's pass a pension reform bill without a cost shift, tonight or tomorrow morning and be done with it," Cross said on the House floor late Wednesday. "We'll get the budget done, we'd have done Medicaid, we've done pensions, we've done retiree healthcare, a successful session with bipartisian collaborative effort and be done with it. My question to you (Madigan) is why not? Why not do it?"

Cross added, "We know what it takes to have a pension bill. We know what will pass the House, what will pass the Senate, what the governor will sign and we can do it without the cost shift, without the $20 billion property tax increase on downstate, suburban schools."

But  Madigan seemed shocked to learn that his Democratic teammate Gov. Pat Quinn opposed his cost-shift move as well.

“I was surprised that the governor disagreed with me on the issue. He agrees with the Republicans,” Madigan said.

With that, Madigan said he intends to remove his name as the House sponsor for the bill. “I’ve arranged with the clerk that the sponsorship of Senate Bill 1673 will be changed from me to Mr. Cross,” Madigan said.

A House executive committee will take up the issue this morning, the last official day of the Spring legislative session.  Bills remain to be considered and passed to stabilize the state’s collapsing pension and Medicaid programs.

Madigan’s shift was hardly the only thing that happened on a marathon Wednesday.

• The House adopted a bill to keep the state’s only super-max prison open. Tamms, in far southern Illinois, will be reorganized to become a medium-security prison to allow more inmates to be housed at the facility. Gov. Quinn is proposing closing several correctional facilities to save money. The House is trying to save unionized correctional jobs.

• The Illinois House approved a plan to drop campaign-donation limits in races where super PACs jump in with big money. The legislation would apply in races where an independent super PAC spends more than $100,000 supporting a legislative candidate or $250,000 supporting a statewide candidate. If that happens, then the opposing candidate would not have to follow the state's new limits on donations. The bill passed 63-55 Wednesday in the Illinois House and now goes to the Senate.

Government watchdog groups fear this will create a loophole for big money to pour into political races. But House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie says it would let candidates "fight fire with fire" if they're targeted by super PACs with deep pockets.

The Illinois House also approved a measure by state Rep. Marcus Evans (D-Chicago) to ban landfills in Cook County. The bill moves to Gov. Quinn for his signature.

The state Senate approved a bill to allow the sale of Powerball lottery tickets to be sold over the internet. The measure heads to the governor.

House Democrats also moved forward their own version of a new budget set at $33.7 billion that features deep cuts to schools, public universities and health care services for the poor. In the end, the state will still end up spending $300 million more than in the current budget, but is still $4.4 million under the cap agreed up in a spending resolution, according to Madigan.


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