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Madigan: 'We've taken the first step in the House'

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ILLINOIS_PENSIONS_38886055.JPGIllinois House Speaker Michael Madigan presented to House members Thursday his pension reform package, which narrowly passed and now moves to the Senate. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) took questions from reporters Thursday after eking his pension reform package through the House on a 62-51 vote, with two House members voting present and three absent. The following is a transcript of the interview, during which Madigan commented on his pension plan among other issues like hydraulic 'fracking' and same-sex marriage.

Q: Did you have a harder time getting members to come on board as Senate President John Cullerton was working on a separate plan with union leaders?
A: "That wasn't our experience as we worked through the roll call. It was a difficult roll call to work but not because of action in the Senate. The difficulty would relate to opposition from unions and from teachers unions and from citizens who have already retired and are drawing their pension. But none of it related to the Senate."

Q: You vowed to do whatever you can to get the bill to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk. What does that mean now that it's in the Senate?
A: "Well, I'm committed to the bill. I'm committed to solving the issue. 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. We've taken that first step in the House. My expectation is that the Senate will approve this bill."

Q: Have you been briefed at all on Cullerton's negotiations with the unions?
A: "I could clearly see the fine work of Mr. Henry Bayer, who is an expert at delay. I think this is a continuation of what we experienced a year ago from Henry Bayer and the We Are One coalition where day to day they simply want delay. Delay. Delay. Because maybe the problem will go away. It's precisely what they did on the collective bargaining. And they only came to a conclusion on the collective bargaining because they knew there would be action in the Legislature."

Q: Will this action in the House spur unions to greater heights with the Senate?
A: "I really don't know what they'll do, but 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. There's two chambers here, and both chambers have to pass the same bill. The House has passed a bill and so whatever the Senate does, I don't think it will achieve the cost savings that the House bill will achieve."

Q: Does the motion to reconsider keep the bill from moving to the Senate?
A: "No, it prevents somebody from rethinking what they did."

Q: Has the position to approve the back raises for unions been changed?
A: "Were going to take it with the budget making process. And we've discussed it already in our caucus. So, there is resistance from certain members of our caucus to appropriating the back pay, which is either $140 million or $166 million. The number changes. In addition, there's concern in our caucus about appropriating for the future raises that were put into the contract because they're in competition with the other spending purposes of the state."

Q: To what extent do you hold the blame for the longstanding nature of this problem in your 37 years here?
A: "It's 43."

Q: To what extent as your 30-some years as speaker?
A: "Get that number straight. There's plenty of blame to go around, and I'm not shirking the responsibility."

Q: Are you going to proceed with the budget?
A: "We're going to proceed, but there's an open invitation to the House Republicans to participate with us. I think you'll find that some will and some will not."

Q: What about fracking? Republicans had a press conference. Labor leaders sent you a letter...
A: "Some labor leaders sent me a letter. Some did. And some didn't."

"I think that we'll do a bill on fracking where the environmental groups have told us it's the strongest environmental regulations in the nation, yeah, I think we'll do a bill. I'm for a moratoroium, but I think we'll do a bill."

Q: What was the tipping point in passing today's pension reform bill?
A: "I think it was the vote that we took about two weeks ago simply on the COLA adjustment where it got 66 votes. I think that told the tale, and then we put the bill together. Today, we were four votes short of that, but it was a good roll call."

Q: Will you address the cost-shift that was left out of this pension bill? When?
A: "I will. I will. In the short-term, we'll be addressing that issue."

Q: Have you been involved in getting votes for same-sex marriage?
A: "We've been working on behalf of marriage equality. We're a little closer, but we're not yet there. But we're a little closer."

***From a separate interview a few minutes later...

Madigan: "I think that everyone in the Legislature agrees that the fiscal condition of the state's pension systems is a great problem that faces the state, and I think that this is a first step towards bringing fiscal stability to the state in general. But this is a good first place to begin."

Q: What are the bill's chances in Senate?
A: "My expectation is the bill will pass the Senate."

Q: Have you spoken to Cullerton about it?
A: "I have. On several occasions."

Q: Cullerton hasn't committed to working a roll call though. So what makes you so confident?
A: "Maybe it's that 43 years around this building."

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Madigan was a legislator when the 1970 Illinois Constitution became the supreme law of Illinois. He was on notice since that time that pensions were an enforceable contract that were not to diminished or impaired. Yet he voted all along to underfund the pensions which would be illegal for every other employer. He voted for pension "holidays." And now he ignores the plain language of the Illinois Constitution that he takes an oath to uphold, in order to balance the budget on the backs of public employees and retirees. For shame. The rule of law has died.

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