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Our view: Legislature fumbles again

Updated: February 12, 2013 2:41PM



Well, the lame ducks in the Legislature have waddled away without playing their hoped-for central role in achieving pension reform, and the growing crisis in long-term pension funding is now in the lap of the new General Assembly.

Many statehouse observers thought the just-concluded lame-duck session, where outgoing lawmakers could cast an unpopular vote without fear of reprisal at the polls, was the best bet to pass a pension reform bill and start the years-long process of trimming the roughly $96 billion unfunded liability.

But that prediction wasn’t all it was quacked up to be — mostly because House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) don’t appear to be on the same page on pension reform. We’re starting to think that’s intentional.

With Madigan not producing enough votes to pass it, the House failed to vote on a bipartisan bill that would’ve frozen retirees’ cost-of-living raises for six years and required workers to pay more toward their pensions. Even if it had cleared the House, it was DOA in the Senate where Cullerton doubted its constitutionality. He insists that his plan is the only way to avoid losing a court challenge because it offers workers and retirees a choice of benefit reductions.

Madigan and Cullerton must use their considerable power to get Democratic legislators in line on a reform bill. With the new Legislature, they have veto-proof majorities in both chambers — meaning they don’t need Republicans or Gov. Pat Quinn to play ball.

But do the Democratic leaders have the political will to get it done and likely anger the public employee unions that provide the Dems with so much election support? We have our doubts, but what’s their end game on this?

If a bill passed today, it would take until at least 2030 for the state to start reducing the $96 billion funding shortfall, according to the Legislature’s research arm. Meanwhile, pension costs eat up a bigger portion of the state budget each year, leaving less money for other needs, and Illinois’ credit rating will take another hit soon, raising the state’s borrowing costs.

Sounds serious because it is. But for Madigan and Cullerton, not yet serious enough.



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