Madigan ready to support next attack on public workers through so-called 'pension reform' in Veto Session? Crain's Chicago Business and the Civic Committee think so, as another version of the SB7 attack gains ground to take place before the holidays

Are Illinois corporations preparing another attack on public workers like the one they pulled off in 2010 - 2011 with the infamous SB7 legislation? The answer is "Yes." The issue this time is not their version of "School Reform," but their version of "Pension Reform." And for the second year in a row, it looks like they will again have the support of the powerful Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, Michael J. Madigan. It's yet another attack on public workers orchestrated by the CEOs of the state's largest corporations and the most powerful Democrat in Illinois, and the wheels are beginning to turn to put the money and propaganda behind the effort, just as they were in place last year with Madigan's blessings. Although his agenda is not distinguishable from that of the largest corporations in Illinois (or the union busting in nearby states), Madigan is still a member of the Democratic Party.

While members of the public have been excluded from the secret meetings of the "pension study group" at the offices of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan for the past month, two groups representing the power of corporate Chicago — the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club and the Civic Federation — have been welcomed at the meetings with state legislators to discuss the "pension crisis" in what many now believe to be the orchestration of another attack on public workers, public worker unions, and public worker pensions. Above, the Civic Committee (second from right at table) argues again against the current pensions, while some of those "at the table" look on during the September 16, 2011 meetings at the Bilandic Illinois office building. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.With quasi-secret meetings still taking place in the conference room of House Speaker Michael Madigan at the Bilandic State Office Building in Chicago (the most recent took place on October 5), informed observers were still hoping that so-called "pension reform" would not be on the agenda of the Veto Session of the Illinois General Assembly at the end of the month.

But if Crain's Chicago Business (along with the Chicago Tribune) is any indication of how corporate capitalism is playing its political hand in Chicago and Illinois, the message today is: Think again. On October 5, Crain's Chicago Business ran a detailed blog posting, by Greg Hinz, outlining how Madigan is probably going to support the legislation being prepared by Republican House Minority Leader Tom Cross to implement the corporate version of "Pension Reform" being pushed by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. And as if in a rerun of the infamous financing of SB7 one year ago, Crain's is also reporting that the largest corporations in Illinois are preparing, again, to put millions of dollars behind their latest version of union-busting "reforms" — not next year, but before the end of 2011.

But don't trust Substance.

What follows is what was up on the Crain's site as of midnight October 5, 2011.

Time for pension reform may have arrived in Springfield — maybe. Posted by Greg Hinz at 10/5/2011 11:33 AM CDT

Abbott Laboratories chief Miles White had a pointed message for the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Illinois House when he met with them recently: "We have options."

The statement, confirmed by reliable sources, was an unmistakable reference to the fact that the huge biotech firm owns a ton of property in southern Wisconsin, property that it could use to expand, rather than adding to its Illinois workforce.

Mr. White's message was the latest sign that business is getting serious about its drive to get the Illinois General Assembly to reform the state's crumbling employee pension plans, preferably in the fall veto session. And, in fact, the biz guys may be as close to winning as they've ever been.

But they haven't won yet.

Good intentions and strong arguments aren't enough to win in Springfield, not when organized labor and others bitterly oppose efforts to reduce the value of their state pensions earned from today on.

What it takes to win are money — spent the right way — muscle and a favorable sales narrative. It's not yet certain that such critical mass has been assembled.

The business guys are right in their basic argument. Like it or not, the state no longer can afford to let its workers accrue pension benefits at the same rate they have been.

The failure to act undermines state finances and gives business a good reason to move jobs elsewhere.

According to the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, the state's five pension funds now have just 38% of the money on hand they'll need to pay future bills. Unless that changes, pension costs will eat up nearly half of the state's operating revenues by 2045, the committee argues, double today's rate.

The Legislature already has cut benefits for workers hired after Jan. 1. But zapping current workers is a much harder task, one that Springfield leaders have talked and talked and talked about but not yet moved on.

The business guys hope that's about to change.

They're prepared to spend $1 million on media ads and have stepped up direct contacts with state workers and teachers covered by the Illinois pension funds, going around union leaders.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross says he has 30 GOP votes to put on a pension bill — a good chunk of the 60 votes needed for passage. "We're good to go. We've got 30," he told me in a phone chat Wednesday.

Civic Committee boss Tyrone Fahner told me he has a personal commitment from House Speaker Michael Madigan to call the vote if the Rs, indeed, do have 30 votes. Mr. Madigan's spokesman replied that pension reform is "an evolving process."


House approval would send the bill to the Senate, where President John Cullerton is opposed to the Civic Committee's bill, which would require workers to earn fewer benefits, or pay more, but suggests he "probably" would let the bill go to the floor for a vote.

All that's promising.

But Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, though sympathetic, is not yet fully onboard. No one twists arms better than Rahmbo.

The business guys have not yet flexed their bankroll in a convincing way, making it crystal clear they'll pour big cash into unseating lawmakers who vote the wrong way.

And the narrative most Illinoisans are hearing about the issue —middle-class union workers have to suffer, while fat cats seemingly prosper — needs some buffing.

School-reform advocates had all three last spring when they rammed through measures lengthening the school day and year and making it tougher for teachers to strike. The task for pension reformers now ought to be to follow that lead.

Has the time finally arrived in Springfield for pension reform — reform that applies not just to newbies, but current workers? We'll see.

Read more:


October 6, 2011 at 5:06 PM

By: Jay Rehak

Our Pensions are at stake

We need to monitor this very closely. From experience, we know the House Speaker has the ability to cause tremendous damage to our Pension Fund overnight. Part of the latest plan in Springfield (HB 3827-- currently in Committee) is to allow the Mayor to take control of the pensions of workers in Chicago. We need to oppose this collectively.

October 7, 2011 at 7:54 AM

By: Bob Busch

New Pension Bill


I smell a rat here. Not only does the Mayor in effect control all the pension

Money in existence ,but it will wipe any blame for malfeasance. Also this bill

Was introduced on October 5th! Thanks Jay for catching this bill.

October 12, 2011 at 2:45 PM

By: Joan Omalley

Benefits legislators have granted themselves

It is an all win situation when those who make the rules also benefit from them. Why do we hear no information regarding the benefits Illinois legislators have granted themselves from health care coverage to, yes, pensions?

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