Illinois Pension Politics

Illinois Pension Politics

 by Korey Clark

The pension overhaul passed in Illinois last week isn't quite a done deal yet, with unions vowing to challenge it in court (see Illinois OK'S Pension Overhaul). But even getting the plan to Gov. Pat Quinn's (D) desk took quite a bit of doing. 
 
One major challenge facing lawmakers was the sheer size of the problem, with the state's pension shortfall hovering around $100 billion. The state's strong labor tradition, which had helped cultivate the environment that made such a deficit possible, also made it resistant to any changes that would take money out of workers' pockets. On top of that, Quinn wanted the issue resolved before next year's election. 
 
After months of negotiations, legislative leaders from both major parties managed to reach agreement on a reform plan for the first time. The leaders then reportedly gave themselves just the Thanksgiving holiday week to sell the plan to their caucuses.  
 
Republican House Leader Jim Durkin said the tight timeframe made for a busy final stretch. 
 
"I had people running in and running out over the last 24 hours," he said in an interview after last week's vote. "Talking to every member, every question." 
 
Durkin said some of his fellow Republicans had legitimate concerns, such as downstate representatives who have a lot of public employees in their districts. But he said that wasn't true of his entire caucus. 
 
"Some people I will just say that their reasoning is not reasonable and I question it because of the dynamics of what's going on in the state of Illinois over this next year," he said. "It's a political season and some people believe that we shouldn't deliver a win to the Democrats." 
 
Another wrinkle legislative leaders had to contend with was Bruce Rauner, a Republican venture capitalist running for governor, who opposed the deal. 
 
"My view is that [Rauner] would like to blow it up so that he would maintain a campaign issue," said Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. 
 
Although Rauner has never held political office, he wields considerable political influence — and money. And when asked if he and his allies had made the vote on the pension plan more complicated, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said, "Absolutely it made it more complicated." She also said that if the vote hadn't taken place three months before the primary, the outcome might have been different. (CHICAGO PUBLIC MEDIA, NEW YORK TIMES, CHICAGO TRIBUNE) 

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