Surprise move by House Speaker Madigan could clear way for pension overhaul

May 31, 2012

Amanda Vinicky contributed reporting from Springfield.

Illinois lawmakers will take a shot today at passing a massive overhaul of the state's pension system.

It's a move permitted by a surprise decision last night by House Speaker Michael Madigan, who handed control of the measure over to the top Republican in the House, Tom Cross.

Madigan wants to force school districts and universities to pick up the tab for the pensions of their employees - a benefit currently paid for by the state. But that proposal ran into a buzz saw of opposition from Republicans who were concerned it could lead to local tax and tuition increases - a stance also held by Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat like Madigan.

"I was surprised that the governor disagreed with me on the issue," Madigan said last night during debate on the measure. "He agrees with you. He agrees with Republicans."

In light of that opposition - Madigan surrendered control of the pension reform legislation.

"I disagree with the governor," Madigan said. "But he is the governor. That is his request. And in light of that, I've arranged with the clerk that the sponsorship of Senate Bill 1673 be changed from me to Mr. Cross."

That move leaves Cross, the House Minority Leader, free to run legislation that would reduce the retirement benefits of public school teachers and state employees without the cost shift. That's potentially good news for school districts, but bad news for unions hoping to stave off pension reductions. And it's unclear how many Democrats will support the measure given the lack of support from the Speaker.