Behind Illinois's Pension Saga

Longtime House Speaker Holds Political Cards as Lawmakers Seek Crisis Solution

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

CHICAGO—Desperate to solve the worst state pension crisis in the nation, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this month did what politicians have done here for decades—he called Michael Madigan.

Largely unknown outside Illinois, Mr. Madigan is the nation's longest-serving state House speaker, with a tenure that began in 1983, and he also is chairman of the state's Democratic Party. The dual posts make him the most powerful politician in Illinois and the linchpin in trying to fix the $96.8 billion public pension shortfall that is choking the state's economy and roiling its politics.