Competing IL pension plans could lead to stalemate

May 7, 2013 (SPRINGFIELD)

Union advocates lobbied a back hallway for the Illinois Senate version because it would allow retirees to choose between cost of living increases or healthcare benefits.

"The critical portion is that we're giving the individual employee or retiree a choice," Illinois Sen. Kwame Raoul, (D) Chicago, said.

Senate supporters say giving retirees a choice of their own skirts the state constitution's language that "pensions shall not be diminished or impaired" by lawmakers.

"In the end, we should make sure we pass something that's credible, reliable and constitutional," Rep. Lou Lang, (D) Skokie, said.

But Illinois House members, who are willing to risk a court challenge, passed a bill last week that increases employee contributions, raises the retirement age to 67 and cuts retiree cost of living increases. The measure--sponsored by Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan--had significant Republican support.

"I do think that having a process that involves everyone and is bi-partisan is the best recipe and the best way to get through this problem," Rep. Ron Sandack, (R) Downers Grove, said.

While the house bill purports to completely resolve the state's $100 billion pension shortfall, the Senate version saves only $46 billion of it.

"It's not enough to stabilize the state's financial situation. It's not enough to have enough money left over to pay down the over $7 billion in unpaid bills," Laurence Msall, Chicago Civic Federation, said.

Some lawmakers questioned having two versions of pension reform with less than a month left in the session.

"We need to be working together so that one bill is passed that we all vote on and let that bill go forth," Rep. Will Davis, (D) south suburbs, said.

Others worry the looming stalemate could result in no pension reform by May 31st.

"What I do fear we're walking into here is another wrestling match between the speaker and the senate president to see who can be King of the Capitol Hill mountain and that's not the way to get good policy done," Il. Sen. Dale Righter, (R) Matoon, said.

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