Speaker Madigan cracks the whip with new pensions law

Speaker Madigan cracks the whip with new pensions law

The legislative process in Illinois is like no other, as the passage of a bill changing pension rules for new state employees demonstrates.

Leaders of public employee unions all across Illinois are trying to get the license number on the truck that ran over them last week.

They could use some help since they're still woozy from the pasting they took. So here it is: M-A-D-I-G-A-N.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, flexing his political muscle, exercised his dominion over politics and policy on March 24 by ramming through a new law that dramatically changes the pension rules for new state employees.

In doing so, he humiliated and double-crossed the unions that lavish the Democratic Party with campaign funds, demonstrated why all other legislators but himself and his fellow Chicago pol, Senate President John Cullerton, are political eunuchs and showed Gov. Pat Quinn who's really the boss.

Union leaders are vehemently opposed to the bill and enraged by Madigan's surprise attack, but they'll take it and like it. It matters not a whit that they are angry with Madigan. What they need to be concerned about is that Madigan not become angry with them.

Madigan's reputation as the Godfather of Illinois politics has been fairly won and widely recognized. Still, his exercise of raw power was breathtaking. In 12 hours, he took a highly controversial legislative proposal involving the deficit-ridden state pension systems and turned it into a law on the fast track to Quinn's desk for signature.

Once the bill was dropped on their desk, legislators quickly fell into line. In a matter of roughly 12 hours, the House passed the legislation on a 92-17 vote. Local state Reps. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, and Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, voted in favor while Republican state Reps. Bill Black of Danville and Chapin Rose of Mahomet made up part of the token opposition.

The Senate vote, orchestrated by Madigan subordinate and Senate President Cullerton, was equally lopsided – 48-6. State Sens. Michael Frerichs, a Champaign Democrat, and Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican, bowed to their local public employee union base and cast futile no votes.

Two issues are at play here, and they are at odds.

The process was an abomination, emblematic of everything wrong in state government.

The policy looks good, although the bill was passed so fast there's no guarantee that so-far-unnoticed provisions will stink to high heaven.

Here's the deal.

A big part of Illinois' horrendous budget problems can be traced to the high costs for the lavish pensions many public employees enjoy. They are far more generous than those available to workers in the private sector, and that's a big reason why state public pensions are underfunded to the tune of an estimated $80 billion.

The Madigan plan will require new public employees to work until age 67 to receive full benefits instead of being able to retire a decade earlier. It also limits the maximum income on which a pension can be based to $106,800, a provision included to put an end to the $200,000 and $300,000 pensions many public officials have orchestrated for themselves.

It limits cost-of-living increases to 3 percent a year or one-half the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Unfortunately, this provision excludes judges and legislators, another example of special rules for the elite.

Who knows how much money this will save the state in future contributions for the benefits of new employees? Legislators who supported the bill probably are overselling it, but there were estimates of $100 billion in reduced payments to the state's pension system over the next three decades.

Given that the state is essentially bankrupt, significant action was required and Madigan was able to work out an arrangement with like-minded Republican leaders. Indeed, according to news reports, the Madigan plan closely follows an earlier proposal by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno.

Radogno's problem in passing her bill is that she doesn't have Madigan's clout. But then no one else does either.

Madigan has no equal when it comes to political and legislative strategy. He is a genius, albeit an often evil one, has nerves of steel and will do anything to achieve his goals. Naturally, his plan worked perfectly.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
Categories (2):Editorials, Opinions

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Barney wrote on March 30, 2010 at 8:03 am

Are you out of your mind, or just ignorant to the pension issue? I am referring to "Speaker Madigan Cracks the whip" article you wrote. You are correct Politicians will always take care of themselves. However you could not be further from the truth of reality in that our pensions are "lavish" and that is the reason for the expense to the state. The people of Illinois benefited from the Legislature stealing from our pension account and using the money for the State of Illinois. $80 BILLION worth. Had that money been properly paid to the rightful creditor (SURS members) there would be no pension problem with us today. No body complaind in the past, until people like you and rags like yours started printing falsehoods. I challange you to find the truth in the matter and report on that. Contact me when ever you would like. I am not a professional but I know a heck of a lot more that you do about this issue.

thetruth wrote on March 30, 2010 at 9:03 am

A link to this article was forwarded to me with a subject of 'News-Gazette doesn't get it'. It's true. It simply reaffirms the reason why I don't 'get' the News-Gazette (by any definition).

Paperclip wrote on March 30, 2010 at 10:03 am

The 3-28-10 editorial, “Speaker Madigan cracks the whip”, starts out well and you make a very good point about the legislative process used. Also, some of the “reforms” enacted were needed.

However, about half way through your piece you lose all credibility. You state: “A big part of Illinois' horrendous budget problems can be traced to the high cost for the lavish pension many public employees enjoy. They are far more generous than those available to workers in the private sector, and that's a big reason why state public pensions are underfunded to the tune of an estimated $80 billion.”

I am baffled by how you came to this conclusion. The State's public pensions systems have always been based on a sound actuarial plan. The problem is that while employees have always paid their share – the State has never followed the plan and paid its required share. The “underfunding” is really the debt the State owes its former and current employees – not the cost of pensions.

For several years your editorial page has referred to state employee pensions as “lavish.” Where's your evidence? As a retiree under SURS, I would like to cite some evidence of just how “lavish” pensions are for many of my fellow retirees. Approximately 22,500 (about 48% of all SURS retirees/survivors) received “lavish” pensions of less than $1,600 per month. Currently, a family of two with a gross monthly income of less than $1,580 qualifies for food stamps.
If you would like to improve your credibility, stop repeating completely unfounded assertions and report the facts.

dw wrote on April 05, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Fortunately the News-Gazette editorial writers don't have to sign their work. Otherwise the person that set pen to this article would have thousands of State workers calling them up and just laughing over the phone:

"They are far more generous than those available to workers in the private sector, and that's a big reason why state public pensions are underfunded to the tune of an estimated $80 billion."

Hahahahahahahahahahahaha. Aha. Ahaha. ha.

What's Speaker Madigan's pension gonna be? Oh yes. Now THAT's Lavish! Once again State of Illinois Legislatures find ways to screw the younger generation so that they don't have to truly fix the problems of today.