CHICAGO, June 12 Just a week before Illinois'
legislature is to meet in special session to address the state's
$100 billion unfunded public pension liability, differences
between the body's Democratic leaders on solutions to the
problem appeared to widen.
House Speaker Michael Madigan on Wednesday introduced an
amendment to a pension reform bill passed by the Senate last
month that replaces the language of the Senate-passed bill with
the bill he backs.
Madigan's bill, which makes unilateral changes to retirement
benefits, was defeated by a 16 to 42 vote in the Senate on May
30, fourteen votes short of passage.
That bill, Senate President John Cullerton has said,
violates state constitutional protections for public employee
The Senate bill, which was approved with the backing
Cullerton, gives workers and retirees choices between benefit
cuts and continued access to state-sponsored healthcare in
retirement. Unions representing Illinois' public employees have
backed Cullerton's approach.
Actuarial studies have shown that Madigan's approach, which
the House approved in another bill, would save the state more
money than Cullerton's.
Cullerton and Governor Pat Quinn said on Monday they wanted
lawmakers to vote on legislation that combines the Madigan and
Cullerton approaches when they meet during the June 19 special
Cullerton said a two-pronged approach - a combination of
Madigan's approach and the less-drastic measure he proposes
-would give the state a backup plan. If state courts determined
unilateral cuts are unconstitutional, the second part of the
combined legislation would take effect.
Madigan, emerging from the Monday meeting with Cullerton and
Quinn, made no commitment that a combined bill would be called
for a House vote.
Rikeesha Phelon, Cullerton's spokeswoman, said Cullerton
plans to move ahead with combined legislation, she said.
"Cullerton made sure that senators had an opportunity to
vote on the bill the House passed," she said. "He believes that
members of the House should have the opportunity to vote on the
plan that passed the Senate with overwhelming support."
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker continues to
prefer his approach, coupled with another bill that would phase
out state payments for state university and community college
Illinois' pension system, the worst-funded among U.S.
states, is taking away funding for essential state services like
education and public safety. And a political solution to problem
has been elusive.
Inaction on pensions for state workers, teachers,
legislators and others during the spring legislative session,
ended May 31, led two credit rating agencies last week to cut
Illinois' bond ratings, a downgrade that could cost the
lowest-rated state more money to sell about $1.25 billion of
general obligation bonds on June 26.
Public labor unions have warned they would use strong
protections for retirement benefits in the Illinois constitution
to challenge Madigan's bill should it be enacted.