House GOP refuses test votes on pension reforms

SPRINGFIELD — During legislative session Thursday afternoon, House Republicans refused to take part in test votes on pensions for the second time in as many weeks.

While their Democratic counterparts debated and voted on three individual components that could become part of final legislation later, most GOP lawmakers kept their voices silent and their fingers off the voting controls.

They said they want to vote on a final plan, not take test votes on individual pieces.

State Rep. Barbara Wheeler, a Crystal Lake Republican, said she liked her party's decision, characterizing the process as a “charade.”

“I love the 'no votes,'” Wheeler said. “We are not going to participate in this. We'll have a real discussion when they are ready to have one.”

A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan said that as lawmakers try to wade through the complicated task of pension reforms, the GOP declining to participate in the test votes was a “mistake.”

Spokesman Steve Brown denied that the votes were a political maneuver intended to get Republicans to vote against reforms before the next campaign.

“There's already enough votes to use against them,” Brown said.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross's spokeswoman Sara Wojcicki Jimenez said Republicans wanted to instead work on existing proposals like one Cross has pushed with state Rep. Elaine Nekritz. She said Cross wants a committee hearing on their bipartisan bill next week.

“We're not sure exactly why he's (Madigan) taking this approach,” she said.

Unlike more comprehensive pension proposals being considered by the General Assembly, the legislation that was the subject of Thursday's debate is made up of smaller pieces. And each vote could be used to test what lawmakers will and won't eventually support.

So far, they haven't supported much.

All of the proposals put to test votes in the last two weeks have failed, except for one Thursday that would cap how much of public employees' final salary can count toward calculating their pensions. It was approved by a 65-7 vote.

Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, hailed the approval as progress.

“I'm thrilled,” Nekritz said. “We don't have to be so cynical about the process. It can get us some place.”

The lone Republicans to vote were state Reps. David McSweeney, of Barrington Hills and David Harris of Arlington Heights.

Harris voted only for the proposal that was approved and declined to vote on the others. McSweenedy voted for all three.

“I ran on pension reform,” McSweeney said. “And unlike last week's amendments, these three were reasonable reforms I felt I could support.”

State Government Writer Mike Riopell contributed.

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