Lawmakers closer to pension reform plan

May 31, 2012 (SPRINGFIELD, Ill.)

The pension reform bill got a second life after House Speaker Michael Madigan, who helped draft the legislation, backed down on a key sticking point: a requirement that suburban and downstate school districts pay more for their teachers' pensions.

The shift in cost threatened to doom the bill after House Republican leader Tom Cross and others dug in, saying it could lead to higher property taxes for non-Chicago residents.

"We're in the last day of session. If we leave here, we will get a call saying your bond rating will drop significantly," said Cross.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel entered the debate, addressing the current system which has Chicago paying for its own teachers' pensions while contributing to the state fund that pays for all others.

"It is unfair and it is wrong to continually ask the Chicago taxpayers to pay double-duty when it comes to the teachers pensions," said Emanuel.

Though Cross ultimately got his way, things got testy Thursday as Democrats refused him a victory lap.

"Representative, with all due respect to your position and title, you could've called meetings at anytime with anyone person and I think they would have come to your office, so I say that most respectfully," state Rep. Karen May told Cross.

"I certainly take it with all the respect I think it's given." Cross said, drawing laughter.

Despite the reduction in savings, a committee of mostly Democrats approved the bill, which is still estimated to save as much as $88 billion over 30 years.

"We know how we can do better but we can't get there right now. That's how a messy democracy works," said State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, (D) Northbrook.

The measure is still opposed by organized labor, which calls the bill's reduction in cost of living pension raises a betrayal.

"This bill is wrong. This bill is unconstitutional," said Cinda Klickna, Illinois Education Association.

The spring session ends at midnight and the General Assembly is taking up a number of other items other than pension reform. The Senate could bring up the gambling expansion bill, which was passed in the House and would allow for slot machines and five new casinos and slot machines at horse tracks. The governor says he does not support that bill.

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