Despite big gains, Democrats still want GOP help on pension revamp

2012-11-09T00:00:00Z Despite big gains, Democrats still want GOP help on pension revampKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau
November 09, 2012 12:00 am  • 

SPRINGFIELD | Despite making big gains in Tuesday’s balloting, Democratic leaders say they’ll still need Republican support when it comes to fixing the state’s pension mess.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said he hopes to enact some kind of overhaul of the state’s employee retirement systems during the lame-duck legislative session in January.

“I would think that would be a perfect time to work on it. But I cannot pass pension reform without Republican support,” Cullerton said in an interview Thursday.

If pension reform doesn’t get done before a new Legislature is sworn in on Jan. 9, Cullerton said the need for GOP support won’t change.

“We need them on certain issues, certainly pensions,” Cullerton said.

Tuesday’s vote gave Democrats a veto-proof majority of 40 members in the Senate. That’s 10 more than is needed to approve bills and means there are just 19 Republicans in the upper chamber.

Unofficial results from the election show House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, will hold a commanding 71-seat majority in the House beginning Jan. 9. Republicans will control 47 seats.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn said he also wants to see pension reform sooner rather than later.

“It is critically important to the taxpayers and to the future of Illinois that we enact comprehensive pension reform as soon as possible,” spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said in an email. “We can't afford to wait another day. Pension reform continues to be Governor Quinn's priority and we will be working with the Legislature night and day to get it done.”

Republican leaders could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. But, they have repeatedly warned that Cullerton, Madigan and Quinn are looking at ramming a pension overhaul through the Legislature in January, when more than 30 outgoing lawmakers — known as “lame ducks” — can cast votes without worrying about their prospects in future elections.

Under a plan favored by Madigan and Cullerton, downstate and suburban school districts would have to start paying some of the share of the pension costs for school teachers. Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, says the cost shift could lead to property tax increases.

Cullerton said Radogno, who could be facing a coup from within her caucus in the wake of the dismal GOP showing on Tuesday, needs to convince some of her members to join with Democrats to help address the $85 billion unfunded liability of the pension systems.

“If she doesn’t change her mind, I don’t think we’ll have enough votes,” Cullerton said. “I’m going to need her votes on pension reform ...  if she’s the leader.”

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