What’s going on? Take your guess.
Earlier this week several leading legislators from both parties jointly sponsored a new, broad pension reform proposal described here. That proposal is a serious one. Sponsors include Democratic Senator Elaine Nekritz and at least one bona fide fiscal conservative who understands numbers, Republican Representative David Harris.
But afterwards House Speaker Michael Madigan, de facto ringmaster of Illinois government, proposed to the House for immediate vote a list of very specific and tough pension cuts, such as complete elimination of the COLA for some workers, higher retirement ages and bigger individual contributions. However, Madigan didn’t push for any of them and did not strong arm Dems to vote for them, as he usually does. Republicans brushed it off as a gimmick and mostly refused to vote, so none of his proposals got more than five ‘yes’ votes from the 118 House members.
Madigan’s spokesman says he was trying to “test the gamut of proposals” to see who favors what. That’s not something Madigan usually does, nor does he usually care much what his minions think. And separately voting on one-off pieces makes no sense because pension pieces have to fit together, so no meaningful testing was accomplished
Another explanation would be that this allows Madigan’s Democrats to go back to their union constituencies and say they voted against the nastiest cuts and stood up against Madigan — something they increasingly need to say. And later, if a proposal finally passes that just kicks the can down the road, Madigan can claim he proposed tougher measures but they were refused. That’s all plausible, but terribly transparent for a Machiavellian normally more clever than that.
Is Madigan just loosing it? Doubtful.
One thing is clear, Madigan has played no cards yet, and nothing likely will happen until he does.
Also this week the Illinois Policy Institute released its own comprehensive pension and budget reform proposal, sponsored by State Rep. Tom Morrison. I haven’t looked at its details yet, but the details are sure there — a comprehensive analysis of their proposals, assumptions and impacts. Credit them for that — you certainly won’t find that kind of transparency around any other proposal that has yet come from the Springfield regulars. It would gradually get politicians out of the pension business by ending defined benefit plans — which should be everybody’s goal, but isn’t. Democrats, who hold veto-proof majority, will surely ignore this proposal.
The bottom line: I for one can’t even tell if any real progress was made this week.