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Pension reform, casino bill, gun control — legislators left a lot undone

Updated: June 3, 2013 12:54PM

SPRINGFIELD — Democrats won historic super majorities in both the Illinois House and Senate this year yet whiffed dramatically Friday when it came to passing pension reform, a Chicago casino deal and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.

The futility also included legislation many pension-reform advocates, including Gov. Pat Quinn, regarded as salt in the wound — a last-minute push by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to skip pension payments to the Chicago teachers’ retirement fund to avert a $400 million funding shortfall this summer.

A bright spot for Emanuel was legislative approval of a McPier makeover that included funds for a $173 million arena near McCormick Place that will be home to the DePaul University basketball program and host small- to mid-size convention events.

But that one glimmer of brightness was overlooked in a dour floor speech from House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) to close out the spring legislative session.

“This is a session where we have not enjoyed a great deal of success. That’s very obvious,” Madigan said. “However, that doesn’t mean we’re going to walk away from our responsibility.”

Neither Madigan’s chamber nor Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) budged Friday on pensions, refusing to reconcile their differences on how best to solve the state’s nearly $100 billion pension crisis.

That standoff unfolded even though the bond-rating agency, Moody’s, hinted at another credit downgrade for the state because of the inaction. Illinois has the lowest creditworthiness of any state in the country.

Instead, the Senate shot down a House-passed effort to make universities and community colleges pick up the state’s tab for paying educators’ pensions. That bill collapsed by a 21-33 vote, with five members voting present.

Earlier, the House took up Emanuel’s pitch to shortchange the Chicago teacher pension fund during the next two years, a plan aimed at averting a huge pension shortfall that could mean increased class sizes this fall.

The measure failed in the House by a 39-78 vote, with one member voting present, and triggered words of warning from Emanuel’s administration.

“It’s unfortunate that the 400,000-plus students of Chicago will not receive relief from the looming pension cliff,” Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said. “In the absence of meaningful reform, both [Chicago Public Schools] and [the Chicago Teachers Union] found agreement on a pension ramp that would provide room for more negotiations and at the same time prevent deep cuts in the classroom.

“The pension crisis is now here,” she continued. “We will continue to push for a comprehensive pension reform package that will allow CPS to avoid a devastating increase in class size,” she said.

With pension reform’s collapse, Gov. Pat Quinn lashed out at Cullerton and Madigan.

“The people of Illinois want the General Assembly to put comprehensive pension reform on my desk. They do not want legislative leaders to play a $17 million-a-day game with the future of our state, our children and our economy,” the governor said in a statement late Friday.

“There is something wrong in Illinois when the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate could join together to propose a pension holiday for Chicago, yet they could not send a comprehensive pension reform bill to my desk,” he said.

Meanwhile, the mayor suffered a defeat on a gambling-expansion package that would authorize a Chicago casino and casinos in Lake County and the south suburbs, along with two others Downstate. That plan, which passed the Senate, stalled in the House.

On another issue, the Senate voted down a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, an issue that brought three parents of slain first graders from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut to testify on the legislation’s behalf. The prohibition, pushed by Quinn, failed by a 28-31 vote.

Contributing: Lauren FitzPatrick

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