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Could pension reform really be happening?

Curtailing COLAs likely to be part of agreement

SPRINGFIELD – Geez, could it finally be happening? Could the General Assembly really be about to vote on pension reform?

Lawmakers were advised to keep their schedules open for the first week in December for a possible return to Springfield. The directive came from House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who doesn’t do things like that just for fun.

No reason for the return was given, but the belief is lawmakers would be asked to deal with pension reform. Of the other issues still out there that lawmakers could address, none rises to the point that members would be called back into special session to deal with them.

As you probably know, the four legislative leaders have largely taken over negotiations on a pension reform bill.

A 10-member conference committee of legislators has worked for months on a compromise, but hasn’t produced a plan that has the support of a majority of the committee.

When negotiations bog down at a lower level, an issue is often kicked upstairs to the leaders to finally resolve.

The exact components of the reform plan being discussed by the leaders isn’t known yet. However, whatever else the plan does or doesn’t include, it seems certain that a reduction in the current cost-of-living adjustments to pension benefits will be a big part of it.

The annual automatic percent compounded COLAs have been identified as the major factor in the ever-increasing cost of state pensions. Curtailing them has been the major source of cost savings in many of the reform plans floated so far.

Curtailing COLAs presumably also would be a principle part of the inevitable legal challenge to a pension reform plan that will contend it is unconstitutional for the state to reduce pension benefits.

But at least passing a pension bill will provide the basis for the legal challenge to begin, rather than continuing the seemingly endless practice of speculating what the courts might decide.

A couple of weeks ago, lawmakers came to Springfield with no clear idea of what would happen with same-sex marriage, another major issue long unresolved by the Legislature. Suddenly, it was called for a vote, and it was approved.

Is the same thing about to happen with pension reform?

Ungagging

the governor

If nothing else, a vote on pension reform would free Gov. Pat Quinn from the terrible burden of not being able to talk about anything else while the issue is still unresolved.

Just last week, Quinn wouldn’t answer questions about keeping the temporary income tax increase past 2014, because, he said, he needed to first see what happens with pension reform.

So, passing pension reform would free Quinn from his self-imposed gag order. Unless, of course, he then says he has to wait for a court decision before saying anything.

Wrong about

Lincoln’s speech

With all of the hoopla surrounding the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, last week brought one of the oddest developments in that story and for newspaper retractions generally.

The Harrisburg Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., retracted an editorial its predecessor newspaper, the Patriot & Union, ran 150 years ago after President Abraham Lincoln’s delivery of the speech.

“We pass over the silly remarks of the President,” the newspaper editorial stated. “For the credit of the nation, we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.”

OK, any newspaper can miscalculate in an editorial. Why, there were even some newspapers in Illinois that endorsed Rod Blagojevich for a second term. Still, the Harrisburg paper delivered a 150-year follow-up:

“In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error.”

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