Lisa Madigan
(Seth Perlman/AP)
July 17, 2013

Madigan Won't Discuss Dad's Role in 2014 Decision

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is declining to discuss what conversations, if any, she had with her politically powerful father before deciding not to run for Illinois governor.

Madigan ended months of speculation Monday when she announced she wouldn't challenge Gov. Pat Quinn in 2014.

The Chicago Democrat said she would never run for governor while her father, longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan, remained in his job.

Lisa Madigan spoke to reporters Wednesday for the first time since her announcement.

Asked if her father had considered stepping down so she could run, Madigan declined to elaborate about her decision making process.

"There's a process that I went through in terms of evaluating how I could best continue to serve the people of the state of Illinois," she said.  "Obviously, that involved private conversations that I will not be going through with you publicly."

She said she evaluated how best she could serve the people of Illinois.   Madigan plans to seek another term as attorney general.

July 17, 2013

Ousted Metra CEO Describes Rough Illinois Politics

A former California transit executive tapped to clean up Chicago's scandal-tarnished Metra commuter rail agency says he was pushed out for doing exactly that and resisting pressure from Illinois politicians.

Alex Clifford was allowed to speak publicly for the first time Wednesday about his lucrative buyout agreement, which critics have called hush money and a waste of taxpayer funds.

Inquiries into the deal have led to revelations that House Speaker Michael Madigan asked Clifford's staffers to give a pay raise to a Metra employee who was a contributor to political campaigns benefiting Madigan.

Clifford told the Regional Transportation Authority Wednesday he believed Madigan's actions betrayed a "moral and ethical flaw."

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown says the speaker was merely supporting a recommendation by the employee's supervisor and did nothing improper.

June 18, 2013

Lawmakers, Quinn, Plan Pension Talks Into July

Gov. Pat Quinn and lawmakers are working on a new plan to solve the state's $97 billion pension crisis that involves forming a bipartisan committee and reconvening the Legislature again in July.

Lawmakers will meet in Springfield Wednesday for a special session called by Quinn to deal with pensions. But Quinn's spokeswoman told The Associated Press Tuesday that the governor will call an additional session in "early July'' for lawmakers to keep working on the problem.

The House and Senate are split over rival plans on how to solve the crisis.

Quinn's proposal for a committee to overcome the stalemate was initially rejected by House Speaker Michael Madigan. But his spokesman said Tuesday that he has warmed to the idea.

Lawmakers are scheduled to consider pension legislation at hearings Tuesday.

June 14, 2013

Illinois Leaders Hold Another Pension Meeting, Still No Clear Deal

Illinois’ top public officials met behind closed doors Friday to discuss the state’s $100 billion pension debt. And still, there is no clear compromise on pension reform.

The meeting, and pensions stalemate, comes as Gov. Pat Quinn called lawmakers back to Springfield for a special session next week to address pension reform.

Without a compromise from legislative leaders, lawmakers have been left wondering why the special session is necessary.

Quinn said Friday he wants state senators to re-vote on a bill they soundly rejected two weeks ago, but was approved in the House.

“I’m going to make a Herculean effort to get ‘yes’ votes on that bill,” Quinn told reporters.

But Senate President John Cullerton says getting 20 senators to flip their votes will be tough.

“So, uh, I’m not very optimistic,” Cullerton said.

Meantime, Republican Senate leader Christine Radogno says she was uncomfortable at Friday’s meeting watching Democratic leaders disagree.

Democrats hold supermajorities in the House and Senate in Springfield and the leaders in those two chambers have yet to see eye-to-eye on the best way to reduce retirement benefits of state employees.

“I kind of felt like I was witness an awkward family fight,” Radogno said. “It’s clear that there’s not agreement, even close to agreement between the Democrats.”

Quinn also requested that lawmakers form a rare, special panel of lawmakers, called a conference committee, to come up with an agreed-upon pension plan. But that, too, was rejected by House Speaker Michael Madigan.

“I’m concerned on the conference committee that it’s an effort by the governor to distance himself from the process,” Madigan said.

But Quinn defended that plan, saying conference committees are designed to break a legislative stalemate when no other solutions are present.

Michael Madigan
(Seth Perlman/AP)
June 12, 2013

Madigan Plans New Vote On Pension Plan

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is planning a fresh vote on his own plan to reform public-employee pensions despite a request from the governor for compromise with the Senate.

The Chicago Democrat filed legislation Wednesday identical to a bill the House OK'd last month but failed in the Senate.

It doesn't mention a rival proposal by Senate President John Cullerton. Gov. Pat Quinn wants both ideas in one bill in case a court rejects one.

Quinn has called the General Assembly into a June 19 special session to deal with the $97 billion pension debt.

Madigan has said Quinn's idea for hybrid legislation could be too complicated.

The new version delays implementation until June 2014 so it takes fewer votes to pass it.

June 04, 2013

Quinn and Cullerton Meet Over Pensions

Gov. Pat Quinn and Senate President John Cullerton have met to discuss stalemate over a solution to Illinois' pension crisis, but House Speaker Michael Madigan didn't show up.

Aides to all three leaders had no details on Tuesday's roughly hour-long meeting in Quinn's Chicago office. Neither Cullerton nor Quinn addressed reporters. 

Quinn announced the meeting a day earlier.

Both the House and Senate remained deadlocked on a solution to the nearly $100 billion problem. The Senate voted down a House-backed plan late Friday. Meanwhile a plan by Cullerton didn't leave a House committee.

No details were immediately available about what Quinn and Cullerton discussed.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown says the Chicago Democrat is out of state. He didn't know if Madigan participated by phone, an option Quinn aides presented.

(Andrew Harnik /The Washington Times /Landov)
May 23, 2013

House Guns Bill Passes Committee; Quinn Disapproves

A measure that would allow Illinois residents to carry concealed firearms is heading to the House floor after lawmakers approved it in committee on Thursday.  But Gov. Pat Quinn opposes the plan.

The legislation prohibits concealed-carry in many public places, like public transit, sports arenas, schools, and street festivals.

Some of these have been sticking points for gun-rights advocates, who would prefer universal carry.

State Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg) said legislation would also eliminate differing local gun laws in favor of a uniformed state law.

“If Rep. Bost and I are going to go to Wisconsin goose hunting, we’re traveling in our car, we’re not going to know from one town to another what’s expected of them," Phelps said. "And they get pulled over or get a flat tire, and they find out their gun is transported illegally; they go to jail. We just don’t think that’s right.”

However, the elimination of local rules would also strike down bans on assault weapons, like the one in Cook County.

Concealed carry applicants would pay $150 for a permit.

Applicants who are denied permits because local law enforcement says they're dangerous would be able to appeal to a seven-member review board.

The measure was endorsed 13-3 by the House Judiciary Committee. It comes two weeks before a June 9 deadline set by a federal appeals court for Illinois to abandon its prohibition on the public possession of weapons.

Gov. Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson calls the legislation is "a massive overreach'' because it would overturn all existing local gun laws on the books. 

Anderson says a Chicago ban on assualt-style weapons would endanger the public.

The plan for Friday's vote was brokered by House Speaker Michael Madigan, who like Quinn is a Chicago Democrat. Madigan spokesman Steve Brown says the speaker thought it was best to have "one law for one state'' to minimize confusion.

The federal appeals court ruled that the Illinois ban on concealed carry was unconstitutional.

May 09, 2013

Quinn: Madigan Pension Bill Deserves Senate Vote

Gov. Pat Quinn says House Speaker Michael Madigan's pension-reform plan deserves a Senate vote. The Democratic governor said the proposal is comprehensive.

Illinois has nearly $100 billion in pension debt because of years of state underfunding.

Senate President John Cullerton has a different idea he plans to call for a vote Thursday afternoon. Public employee unions back that proposal.

The House approved the Madigan bill last week. It would require employees to pay 2 percent more toward retirement benefits. It would reduce annual cost-of-living increases for retirees and raise the retirement age for workers under 45.

Cullerton's proposal would offer employees a choice between health insurance or cost-of-living increases. He says it would survive a court challenge.

May 06, 2013

Senate Democrats Want Union-Backed Pension Deal

Illinois Senate Democrats are supporting a new union-backed pension reform proposal they say is less risky than one approved in the House last week.

Senate President John Cullerton says lawmakers believe the House bill sponsored by Speaker Michael Madigan would be found unconstitutional because it unilaterally cuts benefits.

The union-backed measure gives workers and retirees a choice of benefit packages. For example, if workers choose to receive health insurance in retirement they would receive smaller cost-of-living increases.

Those who choose to keep 3 percent cost-of-living increases compounded annually wouldn't get health insurance. Cullerton says the plan could save around $46 billion and would survive a court challenge.

"Anybody can sue," he said.  "I'm just saying that it's very important that the unions have individually said that they would definitely sue on a questionable constitutional argument for the bill that's passed out of the House. But on this one they would support it."

He says Madigan supported a similar measure last year, and he expects bipartisan support for it.

A Senate committee could hear the bill Wednesday.

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill.
May 02, 2013

House Passes Madigan Pension Reform Plan

A plan that will leave state employees and teachers with reduced retirement benefits made it out of the Illinois House on Thursday.

The measure potentially paves the way for the pension overhaul that has thus far eluded lawmakers.

It also ignited a face-off between two of the state's top Democrats, with the potential to keep a pension overhaul as elusive as it has ever been.

State workers, teachers and university employees - current and retired - have been fighting to hold on to their promised retirement benefits for years.

There's widespread sentiment that with the House's action, they may be losing that battle.

The measure, narrowly approved by the House on a bipartisan 62-to-51 vote, with six members voting present, was immediately hailed by Gov. Pat Quinn as the "biggest step to date towards restoring fiscal stability in Illinois."

A key negotiator on pensions, State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) said she has a "feeling" about it. "I don't have a crystal ball," she said. "I just feel like there's so much consensus around this particular bill, and so I feel like that will be the place where we will end up."

House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) made a vow that he will do all he can to get it through the General Assembly.

"I’m committed to the bill; I'm committed to solving the issue," Madigan said. "I've spoken to this publicly. That the state's fiscal problems are so bad that they require radical surgery and this is the first step."

Madigan's legislation is a combination of ideas from a variety of earlier proposals, and it is designed to eliminate Illinois' nearly $100 billion pension debt by the year 2045.

It would significantly reduce the yearly 3 percent, compounded pension boosts retirees receive, instead giving a less generous increase based on a formula that rewards employees with the longest careers working for the state.

Employees would also have to contribute 2 percent more of their paychecks toward their retirement, and the measure hikes the retirement age to 67, for any worker 45 years old or younger.

They are changes decried by labor leaders like the Illinois Federation of Teachers’ President, Dan Montgomery.

"Well this is a gut punch to the state's teachers, university workers, firemen, nurses all our public employees," Montgomery said. "And it's unnecessary."

A coalition of unions say they recognize Illinois' underfunded pensions are a problem — an ever-growing one that's eating into money that could instead be going to schools, healthcare, environmental causes, anything.

However, unions say it is unconstitutional, not to mention unfair, to cut workers' promised retirement benefits.

They are working with Senate President John Cullerton — like Madigan, a Democrat — on a separate proposal.

Cullerton's not sharing details of the plan he is working on with unions, but when asked Wednesday about Madigan's plan, he said, "The fact that the president of the Senate and the unions are putting their full  weight behind something means something too."

He added, "So if we're able to get our caucus to support a position the unions are for, that would be significant as well.”

Union support would be significant — many legislators are wary of angering the politically-active voting bloc."

The only House lawmaker from East Central Illinois to support the measure was Brad Halbrook (R-Charleston.)

Adam Brown (R-Champaign) said the measure unfairly targets downstate Illinois, saying Chicago area lawmakers were careful to exclude judges and teachers from the region in the bill.

“I think when you look at the roll call, you start to realize there are lot of downstate legislators on both sides of the aisle that are going to oppose this measure because it’s not fair to downstate," he said.  "It doesn’t affect all the systems, and like a lot of things unfortunately in Illinois government, Chicago isn’t being affected.”

Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana) had an excused absence from Thursday’s vote in the House.

A union backlash helped to kill a package similar to Madigan's when it was in the Senate earlier this year, but the Speaker did not appear to think much of whatever it is unions are working on with Cullerton.

"I don't expect that they'll be able to come to an agreement such that people would be prepared to back away from this bill," Cullerton said. "There's two chambers here. And both chambers have to pass the same bill."

Whatever the Senate does, Madigan said it will not save as much money as  his plan.

"My expectation is that the Senate will approve this bill," Madigan said.

Speaker Madigan has built a reputation for getting his way during the 43 years he has been a member of the Illinois House.

It may be that with all of the momentum surrounding it, Cullerton will be pressured into giving in and ushering Madigan's plan through the Senate, or the conflict between two of the state's leading Democrats could continue to stand in the way of a pension overhaul.

Either way, it is clear that state workers' pensions rest in the hands of Madigan and Cullerton.

One of the state's other top Democrats — Gov. Pat Quinn — is staying out of the details.

While commending the House vote, he said he respects the role of both chambers.

"The bottom line for me, and I think for the taxpayers and people of Illinois, is to get the job done this month," Quinn said. "We must have — through both houses of the legislature — a  final bill, that arrives on my desk, that I will promptly and quickly sign and move our state forward."

Quinn has appeared willing to support just about any plan that appears to be gaining traction. The governor said he just wants something passed that will ease Illinois' pension burden.

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