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Pension reform bill passes with a strange roll call and even stranger sidebars

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The State of Illinois finally passed a pension reform bill yesterday. The bill (SB1) is expected to be signed with no changes by Governor Pat Quinn. This historic action is designed to save $160 billion over 30 years to eliminate Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation $100 billion in unfunded pension liability – maybe.

There were critics on both sides of the tight vote with one side claiming it went too far and the other side saying it didn’t go far enough. The “maybe” in the equation is that as soon as Quinn signs SB1 and enacts it into law, the side that said the bill went too far will file lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the bill.

But, from an Illinois Statehouse observer’s perspective, it is amazing how this bill was passed. Here are some of the highlights and quirks:

• Although Governor Quinn wholeheartedly supported SB1, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon (who is running for Illinois Comptroller) denounced it;

• Of the GOP candidates for governor next year, Sen. Bill Brady was the only one who supported SB1;

• One of the GOP gubernatorial candidates, Sen. Kirk Dillard, voted against SB1, but his running mate, Representative Jil Tracy, voted for it;

• Although he couldn’t vote on SB1, GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner lobbied against SB1 in the background, but was admonished for that by Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, a Republican;

• Although Senate President John Cullerton was lukewarm (at best) on SB1, he did deliver 20 votes for SB1 to meet the 30 needed for passage;

• House Speaker Michael Madigan carried the ball over the goal-line by delivering 47 of the 62 yeas for SB1 (60 were needed for passage); and

• With the Democratic Party members of both chambers securing the vote, it goes completely against the wishes of one of their core support groups – labor.

The scenario of bill passage, enactment and court challenge has been predicted for quite a while. But the irony is that on the day Illinois passed legislation to resolve pension reform, a judge in Michigan determined that Detroit public workers may only be entitled to 16-cents on the dollar for the contributions they made to the legally “bankrupt” municipality. That may be something to keep in mind as the legal challenge to SB1 plays out.



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