Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The pension issue looks far more difficult

From today’s Capitol Fax about the potential for a pension overhaul bill this spring:

"As I told you yesterday, one option under discussion right now is to approve the three smaller pension reform bills that Speaker Madigan passed out of the House back in March.  But there's a real problem with that idea.  The Republicans almost surely won't cooperate. Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno supports the much larger Madigan bill that's been endorsed by the business groups.  And pro-union Republicans in her caucus would have few if any incentives to vote for pension bills that are opposed by the teachers and AFSCME.  

"So, Cullerton would likely have to go it alone.  And that means finding 30 votes in a pretty darned pro-union and/or liberal caucus.  Unless some sort of internal, credible threats are issued, Cullerton will also likely have to pass it without support from Speaker Madigan's two strongest Senate allies (Steve Landek and Marty Sandoval).  And the two Democrats who voted against his union negotiated pension bill probably can't be counted on, either (Daniel Biss or Heather Steans).  So, that could conceivably leave him with a potential pool of only 36 Senate votes - and by far most of those members are with the unions.  

"Finding the votes to pass the Madigan pension reform plan would seem to be easier.  He has to find just seven more votes for the bill - maybe less if the Republicans can pick up another vote or two.  And Madigan's Sen. Sandoval voted 'No' the last time around, but will likely go 'Yes' if Cullerton and Madigan move forward.  Cullerton has said that passing the House bill is practically impossible, but as with guns, the Speaker has Cullerton pretty well boxed in on this one.  Unlike guns, however, the Speaker has shown no willingness yet to bargain on pension reform.  

"Of course, passing the Madigan plan would mean swallowing his pride and his words.  Cullerton has put himself way out on a limb on this bill.  He has repeatedly insisted that the House's proposal is patently unconstitutional and that his plan has a decent chance of being upheld by the courts.  So far, though, Madigan has refused to advance Cullerton's proposal and the unions have had no luck convincing enough of Madigan's Democratic members to demand that he call it for a vote.  Cullerton and the unions have obviously hit a thick brick wall in the House.  A 'Hail Mary' pass to try and reform the Chicago teachers’ pension fund along Cullerton's 'choice' format - and, thereby put pressure on Madigan to use the same solution for the state systems - failed badly this week when the Chicago Teachers Union reportedly refused to budge.  

"Now that the budget is all but done and concealed carry negotiations appear to be moving ahead, pensions remain the last major issue to be resolved by the Senate.  If they leave without accomplishing anything, Cullerton will assuredly wear the jacket, even though he has passed several pension reform bills and makes a good case that his way is by far the more constitutional. And, unlike Madigan, Cullerton appears to care a whole lot more about what editorial boards and the rest of the media think.  He has to somehow find a way out of this, and - to me, at least - how he resolves this pension debate is the most interesting story of the spring."

--Rich Miller
Capitol Fax


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