Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, listens to lawmakers argue state budget legislation while on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Updated: May 31, 2013 7:49AM
Messages have been sent all around, expressed most succinctly in about an hour of debate just before a big vote by the Illinois Senate on Thursday evening that resolved absolutely nothing:
♦ Cutting public employee pensions breaks a promise and is immoral.
♦ Not cutting pensions — and deeply — dooms the system.
♦ Cutting pensions without giving employees a choice in the matter is unconstitutional and won’t hold up in court.
♦ Cutting pensions in such a unilateral way is, to the contrary, constitutional because the state Supreme Court will agree it is necessary to the system’s survival.
But everybody agrees on this: There’s no solution out there that does not stink.
Enough already. House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton must work out a deal — by midnight Friday — to fix the state’s underfunded pension crisis.
All egos and narrowly defined political considerations, such as currying favor with the unions, must exit the room.
By a vote of 42-16, the Senate shot down a pension bill pushed by Madigan that would reduce the state’s pension payments by roughly $187 billion over the next 30 years — enough to solve the problem for good. Cullerton’s preferred bill, backed by the unions but likely to save a mere $61 billion over 30 years at best, is stuck in the House, where we hope it dies.
All of Illinois, including public employees, would be served best if Cullerton brought back the Madigan bill, SB 1, for a second vote Friday — and this time got behind it.
Short of that, Madigan and Cullerton — two old friends — should hammer out an alternative that is slightly less draconian but still achieves the goal of long-term pension funding stability.
But what Cullerton should not do is push through three separate bills, already approved by the House, that would raise the retirement age, scale back cost-of-living increases and cap the portion of salaries on which pensions can be based.
Without a number of key features included in the package pushed by Madigan that would be looked upon favorably by the Illinois Supreme Court, such as a clear funding schedule and a funding guarantee, that approach would never pass constitutional muster.
At midnight Friday — the General Assembly’s session deadline — Springfield becomes a pumpkin again. Get this done now.