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Madigan announces possible pension reform deal in Springfield

Illinois Speaker House Michael Madigan D-Chicago left speaks with Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross R-Oswego right behind speaker's podium

Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, left, speaks with Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, right, behind the speaker's podium, while on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol Wednesday, May 30, 2012 in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: July 6, 2012 9:04AM

SPRINGFIELD — House Speaker Michael Madigan announced a possible breakthrough late Wednesday on a pension reform deal just hours after facing bitter GOP accusations of slashing juvenile diabetes funding to punish two Republican leaders with diabetic children.

The Chicago Democrat’s surprise announcement appeared to signal a newfound willingness to back off his demand that suburban and Downstate school systems, universities and community colleges, rather than the state, shoulder a $26 billion tab for employee pensions.

“I had an interesting meeting this morning with Gov. Quinn and I was surprised the governor disagreed with me on the issue. He agrees with you. He agrees with the Republicans, and he thinks we ought to remove the shift of normal costs out of the bill,” Madigan said shortly before the House adjourned Wednesday night.

The speaker said sponsorship of pension-reform package he controlled would shift to House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) and be heard before a House committee on Thursday morning, the day lawmakers are set to conclude their spring session.

The move came after a day of stalemate and acrimony over a pension deal, which is designed to right the state’s massively underfunded pension systems by making current and retired state employees and teachers accept lower post-retirement pension increases in exchange for keeping state-subsidized health care as retirees.

 Republicans refused to go along with the Madigan plan because of its cost-shifting component, particularly to suburban and downstate school systems that might have to impose property tax increases and classroom cuts to pay the pension tab.

Shortly before his about-face, Madigan endured a bitter GOP attack for allegedly “zeroing out” juvenile diabetes funding in what one House Republican described as “hardball” punishment against Cross and Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs), who both have diabetic children and who opposed the Madigan pension-reform package.

“Speaker Madigan, who is the same as the rest of us, is playing hardball in some kind of game after we’ve all worked so hard for so many weeks,” yelled state Rep. Jim Sacia (R-Pecatonica), calling out Madigan for a $2.47 million funding cut for diabetes research.

“We’re less than 30 hours from adjournment, and all of a sudden, we’ll show those Republicans what we’re gonna do. Is this what we’re all about?” Sacia asked. “This is shameful.”

The diabetes-funding fireworks, which came as House Democrats began voting out a $33.7 billion budget, did not draw a direct response from Madigan himself, but an aide mocked Sacia’s claim.

“I have no idea what Sacia was talking about,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said. “I don’t talk to Sacia anymore. He wasn’t very coherent.”

Meanwhile, late Wednesday, Senate Democrats advanced cable-industry-backed legislation out of committee that would impose a new tax on satellite television subscribers.

Another measure that moved to the Senate floor would give state tax credits of up to $250 to parents with college students and who have household income under $150,000.

Contributing: Andrew Maloney

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