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Speaker Michael Madigan hints at pension deal in January, possibly with only Democratic votes

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Madigan pension mug.jpg
House Speaker Michael Madigan hints Monday that a pension reform package could surface in January and pass with only Democratic votes.
[Photo by Dave McKinney]

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Could a breakthrough on a state pension reform package be on the horizon next January?

House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) sure sounded that way Monday when reporters asked for a status on the stalled effort to solve Illinois' $83 billion pension crisis, which last week resulted in a credit downgrade for the state.

Also, Madigan for the first time suggested he might be willing to pass a pension package strictly with Democratic votes rather than rely on non-existent GOP support.

The way it could work is like this: Under the Illinois Constitution, fewer votes are necessary to pass legislation after January 1 than between now and the end of this year.

In the House, for example, 71 votes are needed now for legislation that would take effect immediately. After January 1, that threshold drops to 60. The same thing happens in the Senate, where 30 votes would be needed to pass something after January 1 but 36 now.

"What we're learning in recent years is on these major issues, you do them when you're able to do them. We repealed the death penalty in Illinois. We raised the income tax in Illinois. Those were all done after a general election," Madigan said, referring to two hot-button matters the Legislature passed during a January 2011 session.

"The better question is when are you able to put together 60 and 30 votes to pass a major piece of legislation," he said.

Madigan had insisted on at least 30 Republican votes in his chamber to pass a pension deal, but he appeared to back off that demand Monday during a question-and-answer session with reporters following a breakfast of Illinois delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

"That's always a possibility. That's always a possibility," he said. "Again, you have to be there. You have to work to find 60 and 30 votes. Sometimes they're there. Sometimes they're not," Madigan said when asked about a Democratic-only roll call on pensions.

Madigan has proposed legislation that would raise the retirement age and make state workers choose between keeping either state-subsidized health insurance or an automatic 3-percent annual pension hike during retirement.

He also has insisted on a requirement that suburban and downstate school systems gradually begin shouldering the costs of their teachers' and administrators' pension costs, freeing the state from that financial burden.

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