By Jamey Dunn
Republican legislative leaders predict little will come of tomorrow’s special session on pension reform.
House Speaker Michael Madigan said yesterday that any hope that a bill will pass lies with a meeting scheduled tomorrow between House Minority Leader Tom Cross and Gov. Pat Quinn.
Cross called Madigan’s remarks “disingenuous” and said all four legislative leaders have been invited to the meeting.
“Let’s quit the games. This is kind of the old Mike Madigan school [of thought] We’ve read the book. We’ve seen the movie. This a problem that we all need to solve, and everyone needs to be an adult. Everybody needs to get in a room and work it out. I think we should have been in a room working it out weeks ago. We didn’t. We’ll be there tomorrow. We’re willing to stay as long as it takes,” Cross said. “This is very serious. That approach that the speaker used is really one of the reasons we’re in this mess. It’s politics after politics after politics.”
Cross has said that Quinn should keep lawmakers in session until a solution can be reached.
Cross does not support any of the pension proposals that are likely to be up for consideration tomorrow. Madigan yesterday said House Bill 1447, which the Senate approved, would be “progress.” That measure would only apply to state workers or members of the General Assembly. Under the proposal, employees and retirees would have to choose between keeping either a 3 percent annual cost-of-living increase based on compounded interest or state-subsidized health care benefits. Current employees who choose to keep the compounded cost-of-living adjustment would also not be able to factor any future raises into calculating their pension benefits.
But Cross said he will not support a plan that leaves out teachers and university employees.
“We believe that we need to do something substantive, and we need to do something real, and this nibbling around the edges and then claiming, ‘We have pension reform and that we fixed it’ again is an old playbook. We saw it with campaign finance [reform]. We saw it with workers' compensation. We want something real. I think we have one shot at it.”
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno originally voted in favor of HB1447 but backed away from the proposal today. “When it was passed, we were pretty clear that we thought that it was inadequate in terms of the fact that it only covered two of the five systems,” Radogno said. She cited concerns over estimates that could put the unfunded liability pension at a higher figure than the oft-cited $83 billion. “That bill clearly is not enough.”
Radogno agreed with Cross that passage of the bill in the House could stall efforts at more comprehensive proposals. “The concern is that it will stop forward progress because a lawsuit will immediately be filed, in which case probably the party in power would say, ‘Well, we’ve got to wait until that unfolds and see what happens.’ So it’s just inadequate on too many fronts at this point.”
But not all of her GOP colleagues see it that way.
Sen. Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican, called HB1447 a “half measure,” but he said that if it is the only option that can gain enough backing to pass, he would support it.
“Something’s got to be done,” Brady said. “This is the only solution on the table. Rome’s burning, and we need some incremental solution for this problem.”
Brady does not share Cross’ and Radogno’s concerns that passing the bill would freeze efforts to reform the other systems. “I would argue that if we pass this, it will lead to passage [of reform] in the other systems.”
Sen. Matt Murphy agreed. “For those that say that it’s not enough and passing this doesn’t qualify as real reform, I agree wholeheartedly.” However, Murphy, a Palatine Republican, said he doesn’t think passing HB 1447 would hurt the reform process, and he said he would support it.
“Personally, I don’t think the fact that we pass some pension reform means anybody thinks we’re done. I don’t think we’re done with just this bill, and I don’t think it takes the pressure off to solve the rest of the problem,” he said. “I think you can take what you can get now and then don’t slow the momentum. Use it as a springboard to finishing the job on the other systems.”