Do leaders want to fix pensions?

June 3, 2013 

Are you a fan of conspiracy theories? One making the rounds in Springfield is that Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan purposely let pension reform flop because they don't want Gov. Pat Quinn running for re-election in 2014. They are trying to clear the way for Bill Daley, President Obama's former chief of staff. Or maybe Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Mike's daughter.

It seems pretty farfetched. Then again, how else do you explain the two most powerful Democrats in Illinois failing to address the state's pension crisis for the third year in a row?

They fully understand that the failure to find a way to lower pension costs is swamping the state. Illinois' contribution in fiscal 2014 will be almost $6 billion, equivalent to almost 20 percent of the state's general revenue fund budget. As long as no action is taken, the problem will continue to worsen. Illinois' unfunded pension liabilities are now almost $100 billion.

Illinois already has the worst credit rating in the nation, and on Monday one of the rating agencies downgraded Illinois even further.

Republican House leader Tom Cross pointed out on Friday that usually what Mike Madigan wants, Mike Madigan gets. So did Madigan want the reform efforts to fail, or does he really not have the political power to solve the No. 1 problem facing our state, even though his party has supermajorities in both houses?

Senate President John Cullerton said after the session ended that he had "tried everything." Obviously not, or pension reform would be in place.

Michael Madigan said after adjournment that the failure to enact reform "does not mean that we are going to walk away from our responsibility." Well, he and his fellow Democrats just did.

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