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East Peoria Times-Courier - East Peoria, IL
  • Statehouse Insider: Madigan unloads about pension reform

  • SPRINGFIELD -- Stinging. Stern. Harsh. Acidic. Those were some of the words used to describe a letter House Speaker MICHAEL MADIGAN, D-Chicago, sent last week to MICHAEL CARRIGAN, head of the Illinois AFL-CIO.
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  • Stinging. Stern. Harsh. Acidic.
    Those were some of the words used to describe a letter House Speaker MICHAEL MADIGAN, D-Chicago, sent last week to MICHAEL CARRIGAN, head of the Illinois AFL-CIO. Carrigan also heads up the We Are One Illinois coalition of public employee labor unions that are fighting changes in pension benefits as a solution to the state’s pension problems.
    The tone of the letter caught the attention of longtime Madigan watchers. Unlike some lawmakers, Madigan doesn’t resort to things like paper-throwing histrionics or even raising his voice much during the rare times he addresses the chamber. He gets his points across quite effectively without that.
    So when Madigan releases a letter sent to Carrigan about pension reform that includes the line “to date, we have received no cooperation from the labor unions representing state employees on addressing these challenges,” it’s as close as you’re going to get to a Madigan eruption.
    The unions plan a summit later this month to discuss pension reform.
    “Your interest in taking a more active role in this issue is welcome,” Madigan wrote, before adding that the summit should have occurred years ago. Do you sense any sarcasm in that line?
    Madigan didn’t conclude his letter with a suggestion that he and the unions have more talks. That already happened last year, Madigan said, and produced nothing.
    No, Madigan said he wanted the unions’ thoughts on a comprehensive reform billalready pending in the House and on his plan to shift downstate teacher pension costs to school districts. That’s a narrow range of topics. It’s like Madigan is saying we’ve moved beyond the endless discussion phase and onto actually doing something.
    Then again, it’s been at least two years and counting with nothing on pension reform. It’s fair for people to say they’ll believe it when they see it.
    * Speaking of pensions, Rep. TIM BIVINS, R-Dixon, has once again introduced a bill allowing lawmakers to drop their lucrative General Assembly pensions.
    Legislators don’t have to sign up for the General Assembly retirement plan, and a couple of dozen newly elected lawmakers campaigned on a promise not to take a legislator pension. Currently, legislators have to opt out of the pension plan during their first two years in office. Bivins’ bill would give every lawmaker a chance to drop out of the retirement system, no matter how long they have served.
    Bivins introduced the same bill before and it never got past the committee stage. It likely won’t fare any better this time. Ah, but what fun it would be if it did pass and we could watch lawmakers try to justify holding on to their own lucrative retirement plan while also trying to impose changes on the less-generous plans available to teachers and state workers.
    Page 2 of 2 - * ”Be seated. Be quiet. And vote the way your leadership wants.” Rep. ED SULLIVAN, R-Mundelein, sarcastically recommending a new addition to the rules of procedure advanced by House Democrats.
    * This week from the Department of Irony we have the Illinois Senate. Or, to be precise, the Illinois Senate Democrats.
    As we all know, the Democratic Party was spectacularly successful in the November elections. In the Senate, the scoreboard reads: Democrats 40, Republicans 19.
    That scarcity of Republicans means the caucus is stretched a little thin when it comes to filling leadership posts and top committee assignments. Consequently, every single Republican senator will hold a post, either in leadership or on a committee, that pays additional money.
    Now compare that to the Democrats. Not a single freshman Democrat will get a committee chairmanship, let alone hold a leadership post. So some of the victorious Democrats will earn less money this year than their Republican counterparts.
    Sometimes less is more.
    Doug Finke is a Statehouse reporter for The State Journal-Register and GateHouse News Service in Springfield. Follow him at twitter.com/DougFinkeSJR.
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