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Shot down in flames

Friday, Mar 1, 2013

* We’ve already discussed this topic

Illinois lawmakers rejected a series of proposals Thursday that would have drastically reduced pension benefits for state employees.

But the exercise left little clarity in the overall push to overhaul the state’s under-funded retirement systems. […]

Republicans took no part in the voting, accusing House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, of playing politics with the state’s pension mess.

“Another day of games? This is anything but real,” said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego. “We need to sit down.”

* Let’s get to the explanations from the HDems

“Well, I don’t know that there were any expectations. But people always talk about that we need to have roll call because we’ve heard that debate, right? We’ve heard people complain about stifling bills, stifling amendments. So we’re trying to offer an alternative this year on several significant issues. That’ll continue,” he said.


“The strategy is to test the gamut of ideas,” Brown said. “Test every idea that’s out there,” Brown said “We’re still trying to find the plan that will have 60 votes here, 30 votes in the Senate and the signature of the governor.”

* Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Jack Franks wants the House to hold a committee of the whole to discuss the issue. From a press release…

State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) blasted the ongoing delay of serious deliberation on Illinois’ public sector pension crisis and called for a committee-of-the-whole to hash out a solution that passes constitutional muster and ensures the long-term fiscal stability of the pension systems.

“Addressing our pension crisis is of paramount importance, and for the time being, we must suspend all other business before the House of Representatives until we have solved it,” said Franks. “All sides in the debate have succeeded in little besides prolonging the brinksmanship, and reaping the wrath of bond rating agencies while costing taxpayers $17 million a day in additional debt.”

House GOP Leader Tom Cross agreed. But Madigan’s guy threw cold water on the idea

“The last thing I think the House of Representatives needs is another hearing. How many hearings have we had? How many bills have we offered? How many times have people withdrawn bills and ducked and bobbed and weaved? So a committee of the whole is really the craziest idea,” said Madigan spokesman Steve Brown.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - PublicServant - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 10:27 am:

    If they’re floating ideas, they ought to put Martire’s plans to a vote.

  2. - caveman - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 10:38 am:

    Why don’t the leaders put together a questionaire for the members that will gauge their support for options? Then they don’t have to risk supporting something publicly until they know there is enough support to protect them. It’s obvious we don’t elect are best and brightest, but surely someone in leadership can gauge support without these endless hearings and votes which get nowhere.

  3. - Elise - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 10:40 am:

    They need to confront the major issue which is the teachers pension fund - this is the elephant in the room - local districts should not be paying less then 1% of the pension costs

  4. - Dirt Diver - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 10:46 am:

    Jack Franks is the biggest media hound in springfield. A committee of the whole is a stupid idea. I am glad that the Speaker is finally recognizing that there have been too many hearings, taskforces, work groups, commissions, panels, etc. The fact of the matter is the rank-and-file members like to continue to demand for more discussion and more actuarial studies, as if some new great politically palatable idea is going to fall from the sky.

    At this point, all that is required is courage and tough votes from the Legislature. Rep. Franks, I beg you to remove the (D) from your title and go over to the Republicans where you belong. You hardly understand this issue yourself, but this is the first, nor the last time that you jump into the debate attempting to milk as much media facetime as possible - see your letter to the Tribune editorial board, and your grandstanding in May on how the Governor ought to call a special session until this is resolved.

  5. - Outside the Box - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 10:48 am:

    or, caveman, the State Journal Register could poll every lawmaker and publish the results.

  6. - Demoralized - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 10:51 am:

    I wish they would pass something so that the courts could say definitively what is permissible and what is not permissible. Anything they pass is going to be challenged in court so they might as well vote on whatever significant changes they believe are necessary and let the courts tell them yes or no.

  7. - wordslinger - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 10:53 am:

    Nothing wrong with public debate and roll calls. That’s the purpose of the exercise, isn’t it?

    Unless, of course, you just want to be presented with an unread plan hammered out behind closed doors by the Four Tops and lobbyists so you can claim you’re out of the loop on the tough calls.

    Pick a lane.

  8. - DisgustedOne - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 11:11 am:

    The major elephant in the room is our tax structure! The only reason the pensions were “borrowed” against is that there isn’t enough tax revenue for all the wants/needs. Funny how IL is in such dire straights financially but has a flat tax, doesn’t tax services and refuses to enter the 21st century in creating revenue to keep up with costs. A graduated income tax will give RELIEF to 94% of taxpayers. Other states must be shaking their heads in disbelief at us.

  9. - Downstater - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 11:28 am:

    While “Illinois burns” Emperor Madigan fiddles a tune of failed leaddrship.

  10. - Liberty First - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 11:36 am:

    What is that saying about lipstick on a pig?

  11. - Anon - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 11:38 am:

    Downstater: Nero fiddled while Rome burned. However, in this case, Madigan struck the match.

  12. - thechampaignlife - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 11:55 am:

    Just institute our own fiscal cliff: the GA needs to pass a bill that says if they don’t pass a pension bill by May then all discretionary spending gets cut x% and all taxes and fees get increased x%.

  13. - east central - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 12:09 pm:

    Is it true that MJM voted in favor of all 4 amendments? So now the name Madigan is associated with advocating some of the most drastic changes to pensions?

    Does not the Governor have an extraordinary opportunity to regain primary election support from unions and other state employees if his position appears moderate relative to alternatives? Right now, SB1 is looking moderate. If the legislature delivers to the governor a bill that combines the Nekritz/Cross cuts with SB1 and if he vetoes the Nekritz/Cross measures (citing constitutional issues and perhaps after making some calls to union leadership for “advice”), then his primary standing might be greatly improved.

    Producing a relatively moderate outcome to the AFSCME negotiations seems consistent with a thawing strategy. It will be interesting to see if the governor sticks with an SB1 approach and avoids endorsing the Nekritz/Cross type measures. He might get another term if he plays this well.

  14. - Meier's Half Full Glass - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 12:17 pm:

    The House held this “Weekly Order” to take the pulse of members on pensions, but the only bills discussed were Madigan’s extreme proposals.

    This concept is a great idea, but only if every proposal got a vote. Put Cross/Nekritz’ into an amendment, as well as Hoffman’s, Martire’s and any other that might be out there. That would truly give an indication of where everyone stood and what might me legislatively possible…

  15. - funny guy - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 12:32 pm:

    Has the Legislature ever disclosed facts that support how much of the pension liability is reduced by various proposals, like a 2% COLA instead of a 3% COLA, or using a 50 year time frame vs. a 30 year time frame. If not, they are hiding the ball and only proposing certain relief measures that they favor and ignoring others. At least Mayor Daley’s Commission’s 2010 Final Report on Chicago’s Pension Solutions set out all of the options available (like a menu)and associated a dollar amount for each one so you could cobble together various proposals based on a rational basis.

  16. - RNUG - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 12:37 pm:

    There is a whole list of stuff everyone agrees would meet constitutional muster. We all know the list. Things like resetting the goal & the ramp, future use of pension bond payments, “normal cost” shift to the school districts, and others.

    Note 1: Per previous IL SC decisions, cutting benefits or changing requirements for existing Tier 1 or Tier 2 employees doesn’t meet that criteria. so quit wasting time on it.

    Note 2: A true choice of a cash balance plan where the State IMMEDIATELY contributes all their past share plus historically computed earnings, and where all the money actually belongs to the employee even if the employee leaves State employment tomorrow, would probably be a sufficient consideration for opting out of the defined benefits plan. The current cash balance proposals with their “bookkeeping entries”, penalities for early withdrawal and lack of individual ownership do not meet that criteria.

    If they haven’t already done so, have all those proposals scored as to savings, either current or future, and then enact as much or all of it that is needed to fix the problem.

    I realize those proposals, even in total, probaby won’t completely solve this budget problem but I believe they could go somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4’s of the way on fixing the “pension” portion of the problem.

    Then the GA will have to take some tough votes to fix the rest of the programs in the budget .,,

  17. - jake - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 1:00 pm:

    Totally agree with DisgustedOne. We have had a structural revenue problem always because of the flat tax clause in the State Constitution. People are starting to see that finally (HJRCA2 now has seven co-sponsors) but it has been slow going.

  18. - Rich Miller - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 1:03 pm:

    ===People are starting to see that finally (HJRCA2 now has seven co-sponsors) but it has been slow going. ===

    It’s gonna take 71 votes to pass that thing. Slow going, indeed.

  19. - unbiased analyst - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 1:17 pm:

    sorry folks, despite all the talk of unconstitutionality, pension benefits are going to be cut ultimately and it will go the courts. this is the only way that this crisis can be averted (in addition to increased taxes on everybody else). it will be interesting observing the judicial process, and if i were a pensioner i wouldn’t feel too confident in the supreme court decision. i would cut the best deal i could now, in case supreme court surprises you. they will be feeling heap big political pressure i can assure you. the type of tax increases and spending cuts required to support the pension of the state workers without pension benefit decreases will be atrocious and you will not believe the uprising that will cause. it will make the current state worker uprising seem like a sunday school picnic.

  20. - dupage dan - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 1:26 pm:

    Just how many plans must be floated before the ones that have merit get debated, discussed and voted upon? The pie can only be cut up so many ways. Most here opine that you can’t make the pie bigger with more taxes. So, you have what could be argued as releatively fixed costs and fixed revenue. Crunch the numbers and come out with a plan.

    The problem here is that whatever plan they come up with is gonna get shot down by the unions as failing to pass constitutional muster. Are they hoping that some miracle will occur while they put on this show? Maybe there will be a snow day and then the teacher will forget to ask for the homework to be turned in. Or Mom will forget to tell Dad how bad they were during the day because the souffle fell.

    How many ideas, hairbrained or otherwise, must we be subjected to before the real plan is brought into the picture? This might be interesting if it was the GA putting on Threepenny Opera but, sadly, it is just the latest rendition of Springtime for……dang, I can’t say that word cause I’ll be accused of invoking Godwin’s Law. Oh well.

  21. - fultonfarm - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 1:34 pm:


    As usual, you have good understanding and good insights as to the issues.

    As usual, the Governor and GA do not.

  22. - Another patriot - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 1:38 pm:

    Robotics and other technological advances have been replacing labor at increasing rates in the private sector. Why aren’t there considerable layoffs at the state level in order to free up money for the pensions since the employees won’t budge? Offer them the opportunity to become part of the solution of shared sacrifice or instead have many having to sacrifice their jobs.
    Not only does that sound plausible to me, it also is a necessity. An an example perhaps Quinn could do with one less body guard…and so on down the line.

  23. - RNUG - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 1:42 pm:

    Another patriot

    Technology costs money to set up and maintain. Even if it saves money in the long run, it’s hard to find the money when you’r ealreayd in a hole.

    It’s also been pointed out many times you could fire all the State employees and not really put a dent in the budget problems.

  24. - DisgustedOne - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 1:45 pm:

    Illinois has a revenue problem. Illinois has had a revenue problem for decades. This has been stated so many times it’s insane. Everyone knows this, don’t they? Our legislators do.
    Taxpayers cry that they’ve had a 67% tax increase. Everyone who works for a paycheck in Illinois felt the 67% increase.

    Public workers have made concessions. Tier 2 teachers are paying more into their pensions and getting less in retirement. And they’re paying the 67% increase just like everyone else. So they’re getting hit twice.

    What will be enough? The answer is nothing until the pension repayment ramp is altered to become affordable for the state and Illinois gets with the program of progressive taxation and taxing services like the vast majority of other states who don’t seem to have the same degree of economic problems our state has.
    You can cry about the fact that a constitutional amendment would be needed to change our tax structure and it’s undoable. How come no one argues that changing the constitution for pension funding and payments is undoable too? They’re both consitutional alterations.

  25. - Meaningless - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 2:16 pm:

    Many people have commented that any new legislation regarding pension reform will end up in the courts. I don’t buy that. Yes, if new legislation “diminishes” current benefits it will end up in the courts. But why do we have to take it to that point? There are proposals popping up and gaining more support every day that would meet constitutional muster and avoid long drawn-out court battles. If politicans would focus of these constructive (not destructive) proposals that make logical sense, it would save so much of everybody’s time, money, and frustration. What’s so difficult about supporting a change to a graduated state income structure (there’s already legislation proposed), taxing more services like so many other states are alreading doing, closing ridiculous corporate tax loopholes, and reamortizing the pension payment according to Ralph Martire’s simple but brilliant plan? Also, public unions have already put a 2% contribution increase on the table that seems to meet “contract” legalities. Check out Ralph’s plan for yourself by following this link …

  26. - pensioner - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 2:51 pm:

    @PublicServant - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 10:27 am: RIGHT ON!

  27. - pensioner - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 2:59 pm:


  28. - facts are stubborn things - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 3:24 pm:


  29. - dupage dan - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 3:35 pm:

    Martire, indeed. Whether you agree with him or not there are good ideas in that proposal that broke down the costs and how to amortize them over the long term. If I remember correctly, that plan didn’t use the 90% level of funding that the ratings agencies wanted to see and maybe that is why it isn’t being considered.

  30. - Just The Way It Is One - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 3:44 pm:

    Floating ideas is fine, but ya don’t want to use up another entire session floating the boats only to sink every one once again in the end. More serious, earnest talk IS needed because the goal, of course, IS to get to 60+ votes, but why not the SOONER the BETTER???

  31. - Ruby - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 3:49 pm:

    This was an exciting week of action on pension funding reform in the Illinois General Assembly. It will be interesting to see what the encore performance will be next week.

  32. - funny guy - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 3:52 pm:

    I may be wrong, but I think one can make a 5th amendment case that the pension take away is a takings(without just comensation) and thus the case can be brought in federal court and not go to the Supremes.

  33. - pensioner - Friday, Mar 1, 13 @ 4:12 pm:

    All the public pension haters who think they can amend the constitution to nullify a contract. Here is your hit list. All deal with the obligation of contracts. Lotta work to do, better get busy! The cons drool at the thought of the Constitution, unless of course if it gets in their way.
    IL Constitution Article 1 Section 16
    IL Constitution Article 13 Section 5
    US Constitution Article 1 Section 10 Clause 1

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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