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Editorial: Compromise on pensions

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan | Sun-Times files

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan | Sun-Times files

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Updated: July 17, 2013 6:52AM

House Speaker Mike Madigan is right.

His bill, with some tweaks, offers the only acceptable route out of Illinois’ pension mess. It is the only pension cost-cutting bill that generates enough savings to qualify as a real solution.

It is, then, the bill lawmakers should pass on Wednesday when they convene for a one-day session. But they won’t — and Madigan knows that.

So what’s the value of holding firm, Speaker Madigan, if it gets you nothing?

It’s time to deal.

Madigan last week made clear that’s not happening. First, he gutted the pension bill favored by Senate President John Cullerton and replaced it with his bill, even though it has little support in the Senate.

Then, on Friday, he emerged from a legislative leaders meeting with Gov. Pat Quinn with no solution and a quick rejection of Quinn’s pitch to convene a special legislative committee to forge a compromise.

Will this stalemate continue through Wednesday, producing yet another colossal failure, or will Madigan and Cullerton find a way to compromise?

If Madigan offers his Senate counterparts nothing more than a chance to re-vote on a bill they already have soundly rejected, he’ll give them no reason to say yes on Wednesday.

If instead Madigan adjusts his bill some — making changes that are needed and offer face-saving for Senate Democrats — the window of opportunity opens.

Two obvious starting points: Actuaries at the Teachers’ Retirement System say Madigan’s proposed pension system cuts are so deep that teachers would contribute more than they would get out. That must be fixed. Doing so would reduce the savings overall, but not by enough to undermine the bill. Madigan’s bill also fails to fix the meager pensions for new employees hired after 2010.

We are also intrigued by a pension plan forwarded by the state universities and community colleges. Their cost-cutting plan generates significant savings and is backed by the presidents of all 14 public universities. Just one problem: It covers only the university retirement system, while Madigan’s bill covers all four of the main state retirements systems, for state workers, legislators, teachers outside Chicago and university employees. Madigan could swap in the presidents’ thoughtful plan and cover the remaining three systems with his bill.

Alternatively, if all else fails Wednesday, lawmakers could potentially pass just the university plan, which would get Illinois about a quarter way down the road toward solving its pension problems.

A quarter loaf, a full loaf or no loaf at all.

What’s it going to be?

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