Gov. Pat Quinn, Madigan, Cullerton to meet Tuesday to hash out pension messContinue reading.
Quinn, Madigan and Cullerton agree to form bipartisan group to negotiate a pension fix
SPRINGFIELD-The Legislature’s top two Democrats Monday agreed to Gov. Pat Quinn’s pitch to convene a joint House-Senate committee to fix the state’s pension mess, just days after House Speaker Michael Madigan derided the idea as a way for Quinn to avoid political scrutiny.
The idea to form a bipartisan, 10-member ‘conference committee’ initially peaked little interest at a meeting of legislative leaders Friday that included Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Madigan (D-Chicago), who called the plan “an effort by the governor to distance himself from the process.”
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown would not say exactly why the speaker changed his mind, but said he doesn’t think Quinn’s idea will be the end-all-be-all of pension reform.
“The speaker has always been willing to compromise. This is just the latest example,” Brown told the Sun-Times. “[Madigan and Cullerton] are hopeful, but as you know I don’t do predictions and wouldn’t venture off that practice now.”
Whatever Madigan’s logic, the proposal has surfaced as a last resort this summer to find middle ground between Madigan and Cullerton’s competing pension reform plans.
“Given the ongoing refusal of the majority leaders to work together, the governor proposed a conference committee on Friday as a vehicle to bridge the differences and forge agreement on a comprehensive pension reform plan,” Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said.
“It is the first time they have agreed on a means to an end.”
On Friday, Cullerton indicated he was open to the idea.
“The president thinks that this can be an appropriate forum…as long as everyone in the conference committee is going there in good faith to work towards a solution of compromise,” Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon told the Sun-Times. “If it’s just another forum to push one bill over another, then I don’t know how productive that will be.”
A seeming willingness for compromise on behalf of Madigan and Cullerton may be premature, as Quinn also plans to call legislators back to Springfield again in early July for further pension action.
“I’m not sure I understand the purpose of that, but I’ve heard it,” Brown said. “I think the presiding officers would probably tell the governor the Legislature will return when there’s work to do. I don’t think it serves any purpose to bring people to Springfield when there’s nothing left to do.”
The conference committee is expected to take action on Madigan’s pension reform plan during Wednesday’s special session. Its members will be chosen by the four legislative leaders and will include five members from both the House and the Senate, with three Democrats and two Republicans representing each chamber.
The committee is tasked with recommending a negotiated agreement, which will be sent to the governor if both chambers of the Legislature pass it. Because the Legislature’s regular session has technically ended, any legislation will need a three-fifths majority – 71 in the House and 36 in the Senate – rather than a simple majority to immediately take effect.
Madigan’s plan, which he says would save the most money, passed the House in early May with 62 votes but failed in the Senate with just 16 votes. Cullerton’s union-backed plan, which he says is the most constitutional, received a veto-proof 40 votes in the Senate but has never been voted on in the House.
Quinn has openly supported the Madigan pension package and “has been relentlessly working the phones” to gather support for the plan, Anderson said.
“As Governor Quinn has made clear for almost two years now, he will not approve any plan that is not comprehensive and that does not erase the [$97 billion] unfunded liability over the next 30 years,” Anderson said.