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Madigan’s pension-reform package goes down in flames

In this Tuesday May 21 2013 phoIllinois Speaker House Michael Madigan D-Chicago speaks lawmakers while House floor during sessiIllinois State

In this Tuesday, May 21, 2013 photo Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, speaks to lawmakers while on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. | Seth Perlman~AP

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Updated: July 2, 2013 8:04AM

SPRINGFIELD — A pension-reform package crafted by House Speaker Michael Madigan went down to spectacular defeat in the state Senate Thursday, thrusting the search for a solution to Illinois’ nearly $100 million pension crisis into legislative chaos.

The bill’s demise came as the Democratic-led House and Senate faced a scheduled midnight Friday adjournment with no apparent breakthroughs on the spring legislative session’s biggest issues: pension reform, legalization of same-sex marriage, allowing people to carry concealed weapons and authorization for casinos in Chicago, the south suburbs and Lake County.

With those issues seemingly mired in legislative tar, the House approved a sprawling economic-development package that would fund a new DePaul University basketball arena near McCormick Place and possibly jumpstart a south-suburban airport at Peotone. That measure, pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and backed by Gov. Pat Quinn, now moves to the Senate.

But the 16-42 Senate vote on pension legislation opposed by the state’s largest public-sector unions unleashed a display of apparent bitterness from Madigan (D-Chicago) that seemingly targeted Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) for not turning the tide in favor of the pension package.

“It’s a lack of leadership,” Madigan told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Quinn, a supporter of the bill, also weighed in on the vote.

“The people of Illinois were let down tonight,” the governor said.

The breathtaking but expected defeat of Madigan’s pension-reform bill came as Cullerton worked to demolish the legislation, which decreased annual cost-of-living increases for retirees, hiked the retirement age and required higher employee contributions for fewer benefits.

Cullerton’s caucus and a smattering of Republicans voted down the measure, driven by constitutional questions and anger at Madigan’s unwillingness to allow a House vote on a more generous pension package favored by unions and that passed the Senate.

“Well, I’m sure he’s disappointed. He worked real hard to pass this bill. He barely passed it, 62 votes,” Cullerton said of Madigan, when asked to respond to the speaker’s barb. “And we have a different caucus. And it just didn’t have the support.”

Is pension reform dead?

“I’m not going to say that yet,” Cullerton said. “We still have a day left.”

With the fate sealed on Madigan’s pension plan, the House narrowly voted 60-55 to pass a comparatively minor pension bill that would shift the state’s burden for funding the pensions of university and community college employees to the institutions that employ them. That now moves to the Senate.

Meanwhile, on the bid to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois, the day was filled with tension and stops and starts as gay and lesbian couples, many with children, crowded the Capitol, expecting a House vote on the legislation.

But as has been the case since the Senate’s February passage of the bill, Thursday came and went without a vote on the legislation carried by state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), whose efforts to build a 60-vote majority in the House are running out of time.

Asked why his bill wasn’t called for a vote Thursday, Harris said, “We did a lot of other things today. We have a lot of work to get through.”

Harris told the Sun-Times that his roll call has shifted “in a good way” since Thursday and that he is committed to running the legislation Friday — a vote he still believes is winnable.

“When I put that up on the board, it will go,” Harris said.

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