Senate President John Cullerton, Gov. Pat Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan | Sun-Times files
Updated: June 19, 2013 11:02AM
SPRINGFIELD-The Legislature’s top two Democrats have agreed to Gov. Pat Quinn’s pitch to convene a committee Wednesday to fix the state’s pension mess, even after House Speaker Michael Madigan derided the idea as a way for Quinn to avoid political scrutiny.
The idea to form a bipartisan, 10-member ‘conference committee’ initially piqued little interest at a meeting of legislative leaders Friday that included Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Madigan (D-Chicago), who called the plan “an effort by the governor to distance himself from the process.”
But the proposal has surfaced as a last resort to find middle ground between Madigan and Cullerton’s competing pension reform plans.
“Given the ongoing refusal of the majority leaders to work together, the governor proposed a conference committee on Friday as a vehicle to bridge the differences and forge agreement on a comprehensive pension reform plan,” Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said.
“It is the first time they have agreed on a means to an end.”
But a seeming willingness for compromise on behalf of Madigan and Cullerton may be premature, as Quinn also plans to call legislators back to Springfield again in early July “to act upon a comprehensive pension reform plan.”
The conference committee expected to take action on Madigan’s pension reform plan during Wednesday’s special session. The committee will include five legislators from both the House and the Senate, with three Democrats and two Republicans representing each chamber.
The committee is tasked with recommending a negotiated agreement, which will be sent to the governor if both chambers of the Legislature pass it. Because the Legislature’s regular session has technically ended, any legislation will need a three-fifths majority – 71 in the House and 36 in the Senate – to immediately take effect.
Madigan’s plan, which he says would save the most money, passed the House in early May with 62 votes but failed in the Senate with just 16 votes. Cullerton’s union-backed plan, which he says is the most constitutional, received a veto-proof 40 votes in the Senate but has never been voted on in the House.
Quinn has openly supported the Madigan pension package and “has been relentlessly working the phones” to gather support for the plan, Anderson said.
“As Governor Quinn has made clear for almost two years now, he will not approve any plan that is not comprehensive and that does not erase the [$97 billion] unfunded liability over the next 30 years,” Anderson said.