Lawmakers debate pension reform, deadline looms

May 30, 2012 (SPRINGFIELD)

On Wednesday, it was the Senate's turn to get an earful from opponents.

"Don't force these employees, in their words, to make a choice between being shot with a rifle or a shotgun," said Sean Smoot, Illinois Police Benevolent and Protective Association.

The Senate's plan mirrors a bill that Tuesday stalled in the House and had some members fuming.

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

The plan would keep the retirement age at 65, but current and future retirees would have to agree to smaller cost-of-living pension raises.

If they don't agree, they would lose access to state-funded health insurance when they retire and future pay raises for current workers would not be used to calculate pensions.

"This is a monumental challenge, and we cannot resolve it by taking baby steps," said Jerry Stermer, Gov. Quinn's budget director.

In addition to opposition from organized labor, several suburban and downstate lawmakers object to a shift in cost which would force local communities to pay more for teachers' pensions.

"We don't get very much funding from the state to begin with," said Sen. Christine Radogno, (R) Lemont. "And property tax payers are looking at a potential enormous increase."

"We have the ability to solve the pension problem on a bipartisan basis right now if you strip the cost shift out and send the bill to the governor," said State Sen. Matt Murphy, (R) Palatine.

But others say the state should not have to pay for agreements between school boards and their teachers.

"A difficult and problematic narrative that said if we give a pay raise, the pension costs are picked up by the state. So we don't have to worry about that," said Stermer.

Lawmakers have until midnight Thursday night to pass meaningful reform. If they don't, the next best opportunity for legislators could be in the fall or later.

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