Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), pictured here earlier this month, took questions Friday from reporters after a concealed-carry plan backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) passed the House. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
SPRINGFIELD-After the Illinois House Friday overwhelmingly sent a concealed-carry bill to the Senate, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) vowed to do what he can to kill the legislation.
Cullerton, along with Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board Presdient Toni Preckwinkle, oppose the bill because it would 'preempt' local control, meaning local municipalities like Chicago would not be able to enact laws more restrictive than those in the bill. And local ordinances, like Chicago's assault weapons ban, would no longer exist.
Cullerton tried to move a bill (HB183), sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), last week, but it was never called for a vote because House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) lobbied against it. Madigan championed the bill (SB2193), sponsored by Rep. Brandon Phelps, that passed the House Friday by an 85-30-1 vote.
The gun scenario puts the two top Democrats in Springfield at loggerheads to pass a federally mandated concealed-carry bill by the time the session ends on May 31. The two personalities are also competing to solve the nation's worst-funded pension system.
Madigan has passed a bill (SB1) projected to shave roughly $30 billion off of the state's nearly-$100 billion pension shortfall. But the proposal lacks union support. Cullerton's plan (SB2404), backed by unions, is estimated to chip away about $6 billion of the shortfall. And Cullerton contends it is much more constitutional than Madigan's idea because it would offer employees a choice between different benefit packages.
Cullerton said his pension bill, which passed the Senate with ten extra votes, has as many as 25 more votes than it needs to pass the House. But it's unclear whether Madigan will let it be called for a vote. Meanwhile, Madigan said he thinks his solution, which got just two more votes than it needed in the House, will pass the Senate. But Cullerton said it's still at least eight votes shy of passage.
The following is a transcript from Cullerton's interview with reporters in his office after Friday's concealed-carry vote in the House. Outside of guns and pensions, the Senate president commented on the possibility of a Chicago casino, the state budget and his daily relationship with Madigan.
"...So there's a consensus on - very close to a consensus on - what a concealed-carry law should be. And that's what our task should be this session, not to go out and do a wish list that the NRA - that has nothing to do with concealed carry that preempts home-rule."
Q: Are you going to call SB2193 for a vote?
A: "Well, I'm going to try to defeat the bill, and we're going to have a caucus on it on Monday."
Q: Madigan said he thought SB2193 would have overwhelming support in the Senate. Can you say where the vote might be?
A: "What would have overwhelming vote in his chamber would be the pension vote that we passed over there that is still in Rules Committee. I don't know what he bases that on. We have a different makeup here. We have a lot more Democrats than he has over there. We won a few more seats than he did. So, I don't know why he would predict that."
Q: But he also successfully lobbied against Sen. Raoul's bill last week...
A: "That's true, but now what we're saying, as it relates to concealed carry, we're accepting the Brandon Phelps version of concealed carry."
Q: Do you have an idea how much ground you may need to make up to defeat SB2193?
A: "I really don't know. The people who want to pass a bill have the burden of going forward and getting 36 votes. So the question is how far back is Senator Forby (the bill's Senate sponsor) in getting his 36 votes."
Q: So do you envision calling it, having it rejected and then moving forward with a compromise proposal?
A: "Well that's what I would hope we have."
Q: So there will be a vote on Phelps' bill in the Senate as it is now?
A: "Well, maybe our caucus doesn't want to go forward with it. Maybe we'll have a caucus and see there is no support, and we'll go ahead with an alternative. Once the members realize there's an alternative that's very similar, almost identical to the House alternative, maybe we can avoid this. Maybe we can focus our attention on concealed carry, which is what the courts tasked us with doing, and then solve that part of the problem we have facing us."
"Same thing. We can review the pension discussion. If you go back and look at the Senate Bill 1 that I introduced, it had two parts. It had both bills in the same one, and the one that the House passed was primary. And I sponsored it and wanted that to go to a court. And if, and only if, they threw it out would they have to look at the back-up. And Ty Fahner and the Tribune editorial board and the Republicans who said they would be for that came off the bill. And I didn't have enough votes because, of course, the unions were against it. So congratulations business community, who now want me to only call the first part of the bill and not the second part even though the second part, the one that we passed, had a three-fifths vote. Republicans and Democrats alike, Republicans in the House, are urging the speaker to call [SB2404] so they can vote for it. And [Madigan's] bill barely passed.
"So, you know, I've always been trying. And I, by the way, called for a vote Senator Biss' bill, which is very similar to the speaker's bill, and it got 23 votes. Seven votes short, and by the way, seven Republicans voted 'no.' And I voted for it. I'm sponsoring Senate Bill 1. It doesn't have enough votes. It has fewer votes than Senator Biss' bill because now the unions have gone out and they've actively worked against it, okay. So, I'm going to continue next week to see if I can reach some kind of compromise. Maybe the Tribune editorial board and the business community would - and the Sun-Times editorial board - would change their position and go back to my original Senate Bill 1 that I originally proposed, which has both bills with theirs being primary. And then we can have the court decide on that."
Q: Would you lose union support on a bill like that?
A: "That would be up to them to decide. I suppose they probably would be against that. That's why I'm having trouble passing Senate Bill 1, you see. I just want to emphasize that I'm not holding us back from trying to advance compromises."
Q: Do you have any idea how close SB2404 is to getting 60 votes in the House?
A: "The bill that we passed here with 40? That had two people missing when we passed it so we would have 42? I would say probably 84 votes, maybe 85 like [Madigan] got today."
"As far as gaming is concerned, we worked with the governor and the gaming board to get a bill that he wouldn't veto. I feel very confident that, uh - maybe it just is too long a bill for people who write stories about the gaming bill to read it, to actually read it - because we have put in there language that makes it so clear that the gaming board has the authority to regulate all of the casinos equally. I think there is some confusion because Chicago is an owner. They're an owner. So, to be an owner you have to create an entity that actually owns it. But it's just a holding company that then has to contract like all the other casinos with somebody who knows how to operate a casino, and that's the entity that's totally regulated by the gaming board. So, that's over in the House, and that's up to them to see if they want to send it back to us."
Q: What's the agreement principle on the budget from here?
A: "Well the fact that the House and the Senate Democrats actually worked together on a budget is a first in the last four years. So, I'm really encouraged by that. And we have an agreement on the amount of money we have to spend and a general idea of where these categories of money should go. You know, how much for higher [education, how much for elementary and secondary, that sort of thing. And we're working through all the different line items over the weekend to make sure we have an agreement. Then we will share this with Republicans. We will not vote on it on Monday. We will give data that we have to them, at least in the Senate. I can't speak for the House. And we'll vote on it maybe two or three days later."
"I'm very confident that the Republicans are going to like the budget, and hopefully we can get them to vote for it."
Q: Will education money be restored?
A: "That was our number-one priority to restore education money and to try to not create new old bills."
Q: How much will be restored?
A: "We're hoping to get back to 89 percent of [the foundation level]. The governor's budget was like 82 percent."
Q: Have you figured out how to deal with the back-wages owed to unions?
A: "That's still, I think, up for negotiations in terms of how to deal with the back-wages as well as the new contract."
Q: Do you see forcing the governor to choose between paying the back-wages and laying off workers in state agencies?
A: "Well, I would just say that if you look at what we've done this year, there's been a number of supplementals that we've passed. As you see, a budget is just an authorization to spend, and we don't know exactly what's going to happen during the course of the year in terms of revenues...So, I would say if you manage your agencies and if you look like you need more money, you come back and we react."
Q: Do you have any plans to meet with Speaker Madigan next week?
A: "I meet with the speaker every day and talk to him six times a day."