Now that the Illinois House has passed a comprehensive pension reform plan, the Senate is back in the crosshairs of the debate.
When the Senate last dealt with pensions, way back in March before the spring break, it approved a bill dealing only with downstate teachers. That passed after the Senate voted down a comprehensive reform bill very similar to what the House passed last week.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, was working with public employee unions on a compromise and said last week that the unions presented a credible plan to save billions of dollars. Without going into the details, Cullerton said it basically followed his model that calls for workers to be given a choice of different pension benefit options.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, pretty much dismissed the idea the unions would offer anything that really solves the problem. Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, said any union plan would have to save about the same amount of money as the reform plan that passed the House.
And there’s the rub. Cullerton acknowledged that a plan that gives workers a choice won’t save as much money as a plan that simply imposes changes. So if the standard for the House is going to be that any alternative pension plan save an equal amount of money to its own plan, a compromise may not be feasible.
GOP falls short
The reform bill got 62 “yes” votes in the House. It needed 60 to pass.
Of those 62 votes, 22 came from House Republicans. House GOP Leader Tom Cross of Oswego had indicated that as many as 30 Republicans were prepared to vote for pension reform, so there was some drop-off of support.
You can look at it another way. Republicans ended up putting about 35 percent of the “yes” votes on the pension reform bill. Republicans make up about 40 percent of the House membership. Sometimes on controversial legislation like this, each party is expected to put up votes equal to its share of the overall membership. So even by that standard, the GOP fell short.
The thing is, over the last couple of years, it’s been the Republicans who have made the loudest noise about the need to change pensions in order to save the systems and the state budget along with it.
But it looks like when the time came to act, a whole bunch of them were missing in action.
Squeezy MIA, too
Cross, the House Republican leader, voted for the pension reform bill.
Before making his argument in support of the legislation on the House floor last week, Cross offered a few thank-yous.
He thanked the lawmakers who worked for months drafting and redrafting pension reform plans.
He thanked staffers who spent countless hours working on the bills.
Frankly, it began to sound like an Oscar acceptance speech.
Alas, one person (thing?) Cross didn’t single out was Squeezy the Pension Python.
Poor Squeezy. He (or maybe she) was supposed to turn public opinion in favor of pension reform and finally push lawmakers to act. Now that at least the House has acted, does Squeezy get any credit? No.
Worse, Squeezy hasn’t really been heard from in months.
For all we know, it could be a pair of boots by now.
Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, who dislocated his kneecap in the House-Senate softball game last week.
Lawmakers are human (no, they really are), so they occasionally miss work for the same reasons anyone might, like illness or a family emergency. Blowing out a knee in the legislative softball game could be a first, however.
This raises the question of whether lawmakers should find a less arduous contest to resolve the rivalry between the chambers. A House-Senate croquet match, anyone?