SPRINGFIELD — Given the General Assembly’s recent track record, there’s little reason to think much will happen during Wednesday’s special session on pension reform.{/span}

Prior attempts to force a fix of the $97 billion problem have fizzled, leaving lawmakers frustrated and the state’s credit rating in tatters.

The last failed special session on pension reform did spawn the creation of an orange cartoon python in an attempt by Gov. Pat Quinn to show how rising pension costs were crowding out spending on other parts of the state budget.

“Squeezy” the snake hasn’t been seen for months.

State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, summed up the special session sentiment among many observers last week, saying, “I don’t think anything will get done.”

In the House, Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, remains wedded to his pension reform plan, which narrowly moved out of the House in early May but was handily defeated in the Senate.

Similarly, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has insisted retirees be offered a choice in which benefits can be cut. Without a choice, he says, the courts will rule the reforms unconstitutional.

Quinn, eager to see some kind of progress as he heads toward a 2014 re-election bid, last week endorsed two different approaches in a span of five days.

Following a 90-minute closed-door meeting among the governor and the legislation leaders Friday, neither of Quinn’s wishes was granted. It was decided that the Senate would make another run at the Madigan plan.

That approach, however, will require several senators to switch their positions on pension reform.

State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, was among 42 of 59 senators who voted against the Madigan plan on May 30. He’s unlikely to flip-flop on Wednesday.{/span}

“I’m not going to reverse course,” Manar said last week.

It would be a similarly tough reversal for state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton. On May 30, after he voted against the Madigan plan, he issued a statement calling the proposal a “disgrace.”

“The politicians who voted for it have no respect for the hard-working folks it will impact,” Forby wrote. “It’s a disgrace because it undermines the financial security of the people who protect our streets, who are the first responders when there’s a tornado or flood, who educate our kids and who risk their lives at prisons across the state.”

The Madigan measure is considered the more comprehensive of the two competing plans. It raises the retirement age and calls for workers to pay more toward their retirements. It could reduce the state’s unfunded pension liability by an estimated $150 million.

The Senate approved a competing plan endorsed by labor unions, but it was not called for a vote in the House. It would require larger contributions from employees, but it would give them a choice on whether to forego some of their cost-of-living adjustments or their health insurance. It is touted by Cullerton as constitutionally sound, but it would not save as much money as the Madigan plan.

Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon acknowledged the shortage of Democratic support in the Senate for the Madigan plan, even though Democrats control a super-majority in the chamber.

“It will need Republican support,” Phelon said.

But just like Manar and Forby, there are GOP lawmakers who also are entrenched.

Republicans voting “no” on the Madigan plan — also known as Senate Bill 1 — include state Sens. Jason Barickman of Bloomington, Tim Bivins of Dixon, Dave Luechtefeld of Okawville, Dale Righter of Mattoon and Chapin Rose of Mahomet.

Righter is looking for the addition of language guaranteeing that the state will pay its share of the pension costs.

He said he’s wary of voting on anything without a rock solid guarantee because of past decisions by Democratic leaders to forego paying the state’s pension tab.

“Their record on funding is really, really bad,” Righter said.

State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, voted in favor of the Madigan plan, saying it provides more meaningful savings than the union-backed proposal.

“This is the linchpin in solving Illinois’ fiscal crisis,” he said at the time.

In the end, watering holes in the capital city may be the biggest beneficiaries of Quinn’s decision to call the General Assembly back to town.

When the Legislature is in session, each lawmaker receives a $111 check for dinner, drinks and other expenses, providing a possible summertime bump in business for downtown business owners.

I'm the city editor at the Quad-City Times. You can reach me at dbowerman@qctimes.com or 563-383-2450.