Rauner Backs Democratic Pension Reform Plan, Senate Leader Claims ‘It's Not My Plan'

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday announced he will support a Democratic pension reform proposal in what appeared to be his biggest show of bi-partisanship yet, but Democractic leaders quickly shot down claims of an agreement. 

Rauner, alongside Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, made the announcement during a 10:30 a.m. press conference, saying he would back a plan proposed by Democratic Senate President John Cullerton. 

The pension reform bill was previously passed in the Senate, but Rauner now says he will work with Cullerton to amend the bill and move it forward. 

"We believe strongly that President Cullerton’s bill, with the wording picked properly, will be constitutional," Rauner said.

Cullerton did not appear at the press conference Thursday, but said the plan the governor outlined is not what the two discussed.

"It's not my plan," he said in a statement. "It goes beyond what we discussed and beyond what I support."

The proposal would allow public workers a choice of reduced benefits, giving them the option of keeping their pension benefits without a guarantee of certain health care or keeping their health benefits with a lower retirement plan. 

“Central to the Cullerton model is that future salary increases are part of the employee election, and that to ensure the proposal passes Constitutional muster current law must be changed to make the employee’s election permanent," Rauner said in a statement. 

Rauner said he believes the proposal has potential, unlike Mike Madigan's reform bill, which was declared unconstitutional by Supreme Court last year.

"We apparently still have a fundamental disagreement over the role of collective bargaining in this process, in the sense that I think collective bargaining should continue to exist and the governor does not," Cullerton said. 

Cullerton said he hopes to work with the governor to clarify these issues and appreciates "just how far he's moved away from his original pension reform ideas."

“But this is not my plan, not the plan we discussed this morning, and it does not have my support,” he added. 

Rauner said administration lawyers have spent weeks negotiating the language of the proposal with Cullerton's staff.

“We hope the Senate President still supports this agreed upon model, originally developed by his office," he said in a statement after the news conference. "If he no longer supports it, we urge him to immediately introduce new pension reform legislation that he thinks will be approved by the Supreme Court, and the governor will be open to considering it. Now is the time to act.”

Late Thursday, Rauner's office gave NBC Chicago the following statement: "Perhaps the governor was not as precise in his word selection as the Democrats would have liked. To be clear, the governor agrees with the Senate President that the only labor law revisions that are necessary are those modest ones that ensure that employers shall not be required to bargain over compensation or benefits affected by President Cullerton's changes, the impact of those changes, or the implementation of those changes. This is what the governor was trying to say. We agree. Let's move forward to get pension reform done."

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