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The Tribune’s pension flip-flop

Saturday, Nov 30, 2013

* From the legislative history of SB1, which Speaker Michael Madigan amended with his pension reform language

4/30/2013 House Filed with Clerk by Rep. Michael J. Madigan
4/30/2013 House House Committee Amendment No. 1 Referred to Rules Committee
4/30/2013 House House Committee Amendment No. 1 Rules Refers to Personnel and Pensions Committee

* The amendment was filed shortly before noon on April 30th. Despite the amendment’s length - 277 pages - and its complicated subject matter, the very next morning, on Wednesday, May 1st (which means they wrote it in the hours after the measure was introduced), the Chicago Tribune published an editorial supporting immediate passage of the Madigan proposal...

Illinois cannot afford to put off pension reform. In the two years since Madigan and Cross introduced Senate Bill 512, the unfunded liability has jumped from $85 billion to that $96.8 billion. And those are conservative estimates.

We hope to see swift approval in the House.

* On the morning of Thursday May 2nd, less than two full days after Madigan introduced Amendment 1, the Tribune again argued for swift passage

The Illinois House is expected to vote Thursday on House Speaker Michael Madigan’s pension reform bill… Lawmakers: You have an opportunity to cast a vote that isn’t tough. You have a chance to stabilize the pension system for thousands of government employees.

Do the right thing for the state — for teachers, for state workers other government employees, yes, taxpayers too — and pass pension reform.

* Later that day, Speaker Madigan introduced an 11-page cleanup amendment and pushed it through the House Rules committee and onto the House floor.

This was not a minor amendment

In each of the funding guarantees, provides that the State pledges not to impair the rights and remedies of the boards of trustees as set forth in the funding guarantees (rather than any rights and remedies of the boards of trustees); also makes changes in the State funding pledge. Provides that the changes, the impact of changes, and the implementation of changes made to the State Employees, State Universities, or Downstate Teacher Article of the Illinois Pension Code, or to the General Provisions Article of that Code as it applies to those Articles, made by the amendatory Act, and those Articles thereafter, are not subject to interest arbitration or any award issued pursuant to interest arbitration. In the Budget Stabilization Act, deletes the reference to terminating transfers into the Pension Stabilization Fund if any provision of the amendatory Act is held invalid, which duplicates the effect of the inseverability provision. Makes changes in the Findings Section. Makes changes to the inseverability provision. Also makes technical and other changes.

* The same day the clean-up amendment passed committee, and the same day that the Tribune had argued a second time for its “swift approval,” the full bill cleared the House

5/2/2013 House Third Reading - Short Debate - Passed 062-051-002

* The Tribune hailed its passage

For more than six years, we’ve called for reform of Illinois’ public pension system. Some days we begged legislators, some days we harangued them.

Today we’re pleased to list the names of House lawmakers who took responsible action Thursday and voted “yes” on Speaker Michael Madigan’s pension overhaul.

* And then, on November 7th of this year, the Tribune editorialized on the Chicago Park District pension reform bill

The bill came out of nowhere and zoomed through the House and Senate with big margins… If only the same sense of urgency could benefit the state’s drastically underfunded pension system.

* So, to sum up, the Tribune twice demanded immediate passage of a huge and complicated pension reform bill, once the morning after it was introduced and then the very next day, before it was amended with some much-needed clean-up language. After it passed, the Tribune praised those who voted for it.

A few months later, the Tribune wondered why “the same sense of urgency” wasn’t being applied to state pension reform as it had been to a local pension reform bill that “zoomed” through both chambers.

* Yet, as we’ve already discussed, the same editorial board now wants the process slowed down

An hour or two to review a Democratic or Republican staff analysis — the usual talking points from House and Senate staff distributed to lawmakers — won’t cut it. A daylong Tuesday pension-palooza of jamming ideas down lawmakers’ throats will invite broad suspicion.

House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, Republican leaders Jim Durkin and Christine Radogno: Give the public time to review these changes after you settle on final language.

Put your work on display. Let’s see it.

* And the editorial board has once again made the same demand in its Sunday editorial

The bill is expected to move through a pension conference committee Tuesday morning before heading to votes in the House and Senate on the same day. That time frame will smack of a rush job if the legislative language isn’t released in time for a full airing. Let’s see the bill.

* So after years of arguing for swift passage of a pension bill, why all of a sudden is the Tribune so worried about taking it slow?

Pardon me if I don’t wonder whether the Tribune might not be playing a cute game of under the table footsie with the Bruce Rauner campaign, which is making the same argument about delaying a vote.

And you’ll have to excuse me if my tinfoil hat was catching mega rays when the Tribune editorial board published an op-ed by Rauner’s single largest campaign contributor and a member of his campaign finance team that demanded a pension bill vote delay and trashed the bill with only this identifying information

Kenneth Griffin is the founder and CEO of Citadel.

I won’t argue at all with legitimate demands for legislative transparency. But the Tribune hasn’t shown any real interest in transparency as far as pension bills go. Why all of a sudden is the Tribune so worried about taking more time to hold a vote?

Something is wrong here. It almost seems like the Tribune is looking for an excuse to bail.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

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