GOP, Madigan aligned on some of toughest state issues

Views align on gun control, pensions

SPRINGFIELD — Much of last year, Republicans waged a campaign to get seats at the Illinois Capitol via a “Fire Madigan” message, trying to tie their Democratic opponents to longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Now, with scant days left to go before lawmakers are to adjourn their annual session, many top Republicans’ views on the biggest issues facing Illinois have aligned with their foil’s, possibly leaving the GOP’s favored proposals on the state’s pension crisis and gun laws in Madigan’s hands.

Lawmakers are gridlocked on how to cut the cost of teachers’ and state workers’ retirement benefits. Madigan has moved a package of deep cuts through the Illinois House, and Senate President John Cullerton has advanced a union-backed plan through his.

As the two face a standoff before Friday’s end-of-session deadline, some leading Senate Republicans have gotten behind Madigan’s pension benefit cuts, arguing it’s the best available option to tackle the state’s $100 billion in pension debt.

“The only plan that works budgetarily is the Madigan plan,” said state Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican. “His numbers are workable and help put us on a path to fiscal solvency again.”

When a proposal similar to Madigan’s was called for a vote in the Senate earlier this year, 11 of the chamber’s 19 Republicans voted for it, including Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont. None supported Cullerton’s.

Radogno this week loudly backed Madigan’s plan, saying recently released numbers show the House legislation has more potential to save money.

“We have consistently provided a significant number of votes for true pension reform — the highest percentage of any caucus — and hope we have the opportunity to vote on a bill that will reduce the unfunded liability, provide substantial savings to the taxpayers and stabilize the systems,” she said in a statement.

Despite the uncommon alliances, Madigan — who is also chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party — will continue to clash with Republicans. The speaker wants suburban and downstate schools to pay more toward teachers’ retirements, an idea the GOP has steadfastly opposed.

And Republicans have pushed hard against the annual budget Democrats are moving through the Capitol.

Still, with the House and Senate deadlocked on how to move forward to allow Illinoisans to carry concealed firearms, Republicans largely voted for the Madigan-backed proposal when it was called for a vote in a Senate committee Tuesday while Democrats, who control the panel, rejected it.

How the pension gridlock in particular will be resolved — or not — might not be clear until the final hours of Friday’s deadline. Neither Cullerton nor Madigan appears interested in calling each others’ proposals for a vote. And as the clock ticks down, Cullerton also could consider three individual pension benefit-cutting plans that were approved by the House earlier this year that were widely believed to be test votes.

Lawmakers have until June 8 to craft a concealed carry plan, and ongoing disputes there might come down to the wire, too.

But both the guns and pensions disagreements show how issues in Springfield often are not decided along the strict party lines in the way voters might see in Congress.

Illinois issues tend to be subject to numerous other factors, from geography to race. On the pensions question, Democrats and Republicans are split on both sides. In the House, several suburban Republicans have opposed Madigan’s pension plan and have backed a more union-friendly approach even though Democrats are often more aligned with labor interests.

Democrats, too, disagree as Madigan and Cullerton’s philosophical disagreement over how to approach pension reforms is at the root of inaction the last couple of weeks.

And geography is a key factor in the gun debate. State Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat, is one of the leading gun control voices at the Capitol. The two lawmakers carrying the Madigan-backed plan to allow for concealed carry are also Democrats, both from the deepest southern area of the state.

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