Thursday, November 7, 2013

So much for pension funding reform this fall, gay marriage likely the miracle

There are those people who argued that the Illinois Legislature had no business contemplating measures to make marriage between gay couples legal – how dare they do anything other than try to resolve the problems confronting the state from pension funding problems!

Legislature soon to return for pension reform?
Of course, that’s a nonsense argument. Any public official worth a salt ought to be capable of addressing multiple issues at once. If they can’t, we ought to dump them in next year’s election cycle.

BUT I AM aware that our legislators – while capable of acting – often are not the most inspired of individuals. They don’t like to be bothered with more than one thing at a time.

Which means the passage of gay marriage on Tuesday probably means we’re not getting pension funding reform any time this week – the General Assembly’s fall veto session ends Thursday. No, I'm not overly impressed by the Illinois House action Wednesday that approved a measure altering the pension program for the Chicago Park District retired employees. It's so far from the overall solution.

Of course, even if the gay marriage issue had lingered on and on, it was unlikely the Legislature would have gotten around to pension funding – even if those Senate members of the committee trying to negotiate a deal did say on WTTW-TV’s “Chicago Tonight” program they thought action was possible.

I did find it interesting that House Democratic aides were saying a vote on the issue could come before the Legislature begins 2014 – which would mean a special session.

EVERYBODY RETURNING TO the Statehouse for one day of sitting around, waiting for the moment when they will be asked to vote “aye” on a plan to reduce the amount of state money that has to go toward paying for pension obligations.
Did gay marriage approval ...
Likely, somebody will have an objection to that plan – no matter what it is – and will file a lawsuit. Which means it will be years before this issue is truly resolved.

And if, by chance, it turns out that the Legislature’s actions are struck down by the courts, then we get to go through all of this again!

We did, of course, have the Legislature try to vote on this issue back in the spring – only to have the state Senate vote in favor of its version of a reform plan, and the Illinois House backing what it considered to be adequate reform.

GIVING TRUTH TO the old cliché about how perhaps Illinois, not just Chicago, “ain’t ready for reform.”

... really squeeze out pension reform?
Now I doubt most people really comprehend what the difference was between the plans, or even what the proposed compromises now being discussed truly are. That’s why it ultimately came down to people viewing this issue as a feud of sorts between House Speaker Michael Madigan and state Senate President John Cullerton, both Chicago Democrats.
Ultimately, our politicians are going to be asked to vote for something by placing their trust that this will work. And our state legislators, in particular, are an untrusting bunch.

Which is why I don’t see a sudden, last-minute, effort on Thursday that brings this issue to an end.

GAY MARRIAGE ULTIMATELY got resolved on Tuesday because Madigan put the screws to a few legislators to bring the vote total to just enough for the measure to pass – albeit with a delayed date of enactment (June 1, 2014, instead of immediately upon Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature).

He could never have gotten enough votes for the immediate enactment date. Nor could he swing over enough people to support anything resembling pension funding reform – no version of a reform plan seems to be just on the verge of having enough votes for approval.

Personally, here’s hoping that something breaks in the next few weeks that enables the conference committee to come up with something that can get a vote of approval.

Somehow, a special session some time in December might well be the best Christmas present (or belated Hanukkah present, since that holiday coincides with Thanksgiving this year) our Legislature could give to the people of Illinois.


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