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Madigan Q&A: Competing pension plans a battle of personalities? 'Throw [that] in the ash can'

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ILLINOIS_PENSIONS_39010633.JPGIllinois House Speaker Michael Madigan at a meeting Thursday at the Capitol to discuss the idea of a pension 'cost-shift.' (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-House Speaker Michael Madigan fielded reporters' questions following a meeting he called at the Capitol to discuss the idea of a pension 'cost-shift,' which would make suburban and Downstate school districts pick up the state's tab to pay for teachers' and school administrators' pensions.

Madigan (D-Chicago) denied that the two competing pension proposals from him and Senate President John Cullerton are a result of big personalities, saying the efforts are "all about correcting a serious fiscal problem for the state of Illinois." The following is a transcript of the interview.

Q: When you say everybody has a problem, it sounds like that might include people who have a college tuition bill to pay.
A: "All Illinoisans are sharing in the fiscal distress of the state of Illinois. Our goal in a variety of actions here in the Legislature is to correct the fiscal problem of the state, make life for every Illinoisan a little better."

Q: Why is this format the one you've chosen?
A: "I think it'll be more effective in terms of moving the ball."

Q: How so?
A: "Nothing wrong with transparency, right? Right? I think it'll be very helpful to the members of the Legislature that there's a full open discussion about this issue because on the merits, the state of Illinois should not be paying for the pension costs of employees of local governments or other governments. That shouldn't happen. That's what we're all about. We just want to provide that the people that are spending the money are paying the bill, not somebody else."

Q: What is your take on Senate President John Cullerton's pension-reform bill?
A: "I support the bill that was passed by the House. It's a House amendment to Senate Bill 1, and I think the Senate ought to pass what the House did, and I think they will."

Q: How will you approach Cullerton's bill if it comes to the House?
A: "Haven't decided."

Q: Any ideas?
A: "No, no ideas."

Q: Is there a possibility the cost-shift could be amended onto the Cullerton bill?
A: "That's a thought that really hasn't been suggested. So we'll just defer that."

Q: How much of the pension debate is about finding common ground, and how much is about a battle of two big personalities?
A: "You can take that battle about personalities and throw it in the ash can, okay. This is all about correcting a serious fiscal problem for the state of Illinois. We've discussed changes in the pension laws for close to four years. We made a serious effort a year ago. It failed, but we're back again. I think the bill passed by the House is a good solid bill, well thought out. It has a broad base of support, and it ought to be passed by the Senate. And I think they will pass it."

Q: What will it take for the Senate to come around to your way of thinking?
A: "I don't have the answer to that question, but I have faith that they will."

Q: Do you have any sort of bottom-line for this cost-shift proposal, as far as affecting only new hires or all teachers?
A: "We're not interested in a cost-shift that only applies to new hires. We're not interested in that. We're interested in a cost-shift which affects all the costs of all employees as soon as possible. Now, we don't want to be confrontational. We want to be open to ideas. You heard me say that publicly. The people from the universities and the people from the community colleges a year ago did have a lot of good ideas that could be incorporated into an implementation schedule. The people from the local school districts were not as helpful, but I think because of open transparency they will be."

Q: Will there be time for other issues facing the House such as gambling, marriage equality and concealed carry?
A: "Oh, we'll have time to consider all appropriate legislation, and all members will have a good opportunity to present their bills."

Q: Are those three topics appropriate?
A: "I didn't say they were not appropriate. You have to have faith. Faith."

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