Ill. bill would shift cost of teachers' pensions to taxpayers

May 29, 2012 (SPRINGFIELD, Ill.)

The Illinois legislature is trying to solve some serious budget problems as a Thursday deadline nears.

Several legislators had reservations about a proposal that would shift the cost of teachers' pensions to the local community.

"Total power in one person's hands, not the American way," said Rep. Mike Bost, (R) Murphysboro. "You should be ashamed of yourselves."

The tirade from Bost came during debate over the latest pension reform bill, which would keep the retirement age at 65 but require state employees and current retirees to make a choice. They can pick a retirement plan with smaller cost of living increases and be guaranteed health insurance or they can forgo that insurance and keep their current three percent annual raises.

"The cost of living adjustment is clearly, again it's 25 percent of the cost of the benefit. I don't think there's any other single component of the benefit, be it age of retirement, be it calculation of the final average salary, none of that comes close to matching the COLA," said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, (D) Northbrook.

The bill does not sit well with several unions, which say forcing members to choose between diminished pensions or the loss of healthcare is unfair and unconstitutional.

"Both things are needed for retirees. You need a secure pension payment, but you also need to be able to pay your healthcare bills," said John Cameron, AFSCME Council 31.

There's bipartisan support for many aspects of the bill, but several suburban and downstate lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, object to one of its components. The legislation would shift costs from a statewide fund to local property taxpayers.

Some Republican lawmakers accused House Speaker Michael Madigan of a political power play.

"Every year we give power to one person," said an irate Bost.

"Let's not get swept up in the emotion of the minute. Let's just keep our focus," Madigan responded.

In other legislative action, the Senate approved a $1-a-pack increase in the cigarette tax, an important component of the governor's restructuring of the Medicaid bill. Now it is headed to his desk for signature.

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