SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Supreme Court Monday moved to consolidate four lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of December’s pension-cut package and ordered they be heard in downstate Sangamon County, home to tens of thousands of current and future state retirees.

The decision by the state high court to have the challenge to the pension law be decided – at least initially — by the Sangamon County Circuit Court represented a setback to Gov. Pat Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who were pressing for the cases to be heard in Cook County.

Union leaders fighting the law praised Monday’s decision.

“We agree with the consolidation order in Sangamon County, and our coalition had filed a motion seeking this outcome,” said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the We Are One Illinois coalition of public-sector unions.

“Our coalition had noted that Sangamon County is home to the state Capitol, the quarters of the officeholders and retirement systems named as defendants in our suit and to the General Assembly, whose statute is at the heart of this case,” he said.

“We also noted in that motion that Sangamon County is geographically central for all parties, and that three of the four cases in question had been initially filed there,” he said.

The law in question was heralded by its backers because it was projected to save $160 billion in state pension costs during the next three decades.

It would cut automatic, compounding 3-percent cost-of-living increases that retirees get and would hike retirement ages for current workers. But it would lower how much existing employees have to contribute.

At issue is a provision in the state Constitution that says public pensions amount to a contract with government workers that cannot be “diminished or impaired.”

Asked about Monday’s decision, a Quinn spokeswoman would only say the governor continues to believe the pension law will pass constitutional muster.

“We believe the new law is constitutional and urgently needed and will defend the taxpayers in court,” Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson told the Chicago Sun-Times.