The General Assembly probably will be back within a few weeks to deal with the state’s pension crisis, but the two Chicago Democrats who run the legislature touted the lawmakers’ accomplishments on the budget, Medicaid reform and other issues.

The General Assembly probably will be back within a few weeks to deal with the state’s pension crisis, but the two Chicago Democrats who run the legislature touted the lawmakers’ accomplishments on the budget, Medicaid reform and other issues.

“We’re all very disappointed we did not resolve the pension question before the legislature. However, I think we should all recognize that there were significant accomplishments in this session,” said House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

Cullerton and Madigan also praised the state budget, even though House Republicans boycotted it after they could not reach agreement with Democrats on pensions and Senate Republicans said it spends too much. The state will pay off $1.5 billion of its $8 billion in overdue bills, Madigan said.

“Although the final votes on the budget in this chamber were partisan, still, 95 percent-plus of what was contained in those budget bills was negotiated between Democrats and Republicans,” Madigan said. “It’s unfortunate that we could not have carried all the way through with bipartisanship.”

Cullerton and Madigan also patted themselves on the back for the Medicaid restructuring package, parts of which received votes from all four caucuses. The package will cover a projected $2.7 billion increase in spending on the state-federal health care program for the poor through cuts and an increase in the cigarette tax.

“We took epic action,” Madigan said.

“This year we know, through our Medicaid reforms, that we’re only going to spend as much as we authorize to spend, which is truly, for the first time in many years, a balanced budget,” Cullerton said.

Abolishing legislative scholarships, cutting legislative pay and reappointing Auditor General William Holland were other highlights of the five-month session, Madigan said.

Cullerton’s Republican counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, also sounded positive notes, even on the budget, which she and other Senate Republicans voted against.

“Over the last couple of years, by blocking borrowing (to pay the state’s back bills), we have held the Democrats’ feet to the fire in terms of having more constrained budgets,” she said. “It’s still on a pace that is, I think, too high in terms of spending, but I think it’s been contained by our unwillingness to allow borrowing to continue.”

Even though the House took no action on pensions, Cullerton and Radogno said the Senate vote to reduce cost-of-living increases for state workers and legislators should not be ignored. The Senate did not vote on two other bills that would have done the same thing for teachers and university employees but also gradually shifted the costs of their pensions to local school districts and colleges because Republicans oppose the shift.

The Senate pension bill passed with 30 votes – 16 from Republicans and 14 from Democrats.

“I think it’s a true bipartisan bill. It was a very difficult vote for people, but we have to do it. And this is the bill that I am sure is constitutional,” Cullerton said. “This one was the easiest one to pass because there was no issue of cost shifting, regarding to state employees and the General Assembly.”

But House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, said the legislature’s victory lap should be short.

Having one good budget year or paying some of the overdue bills does not mean the end of Illinois’ problems, Cross said.

Chris Wetterich can be reached at 788-1523. David Thomas can be reached at 782-6292.