Updated: April 8, 2013 7:41AM
Gov. Pat Quinn did all the talking in Springfield Wednesday, but the two guys standing behind him ultimately will decide if and how Illinois digs out of its seemingly bottomless financial hole.
In Democrat-dominated Springfield, those two men are House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton. Quinn acknowledged as much during his budget address to the Illinois General Assembly.
Quinn once again made the powerful case for cutting public employee pension costs while also upbraiding legislators for failing to pass a comprehensive pension reform bill. There is little doubt his words were aimed mainly at the leaders who do the corralling, cajoling and strong-arming needed to get a bill passed.
They talk boldly about cutting pensions, but the Democratic leaders are not on the same page to make it happen. They need to get there, with Mike Madigan leading the way.
We don’t buy into the Magic Mike mythology, that Madigan can pass whatever bill he desires. But he wields unmatched influence, in part because no one ever knows where he stands.
It’s past time for Madigan to make his views crystal clear. And the stunt he has planned for Thursday doesn’t count. For the second time in a week he’ll ask legislators to vote for overly harsh pension cuts that will never become law.
In our view, there is but one bill to get behind: legislation advanced by House Minority Leader Tom Cross and Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekritz. As we said on Monday, it’s the most carefully crafted pension bill we’ve seen, spreading and fairly targeting the pain. And, unlike a bill pushed by Cullerton, the savings it generates makes it a real solution.
Cullerton is clinging to his plan, which saves less but which he argues won’t violate the state Constitution. We respect Cullerton’s argument but think Nekritz’s bill is legally defensible and, if it prevails in court, a much better bill.
Nekritz’s bill also has 32 co-sponsors, including 21 Republicans — just the kind of bipartisan support Madigan has demanded. The Senate minority leader, Christine Radogno, says she’s open to looking at it.
Madigan hasn’t come out for that bill but he appears to favor it. The same goes for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Neither openly supports it because, we suspect, they don’t want to jeopardize a good relationship with Cullerton.
But when you do the math, Cullerton is increasingly the lone man out. His motives are sound, but it’s time to consider the alternative. Madigan, and Madigan alone, can play a key role in making that happen.