Lawmakers expected to vote on pension reform bill

December 2, 2013 (SPRINGFIELD, Ill.)

The political version of a full court press is on Monday night as this pension reform bill's supporters and opponents are lining up their votes ahead of historic showdowns in the Illinois House and Senate.

"I feel like members feel like this is a reasonable compromise," said State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Buffalo Grove).

Nekritz was cautiously optimistic. Meanwhile, Republican Ron Sandack-- a longtime believer in pension reform-- is encouraged that Democrats finally get it.

"We can't change financial future and prospects without pension reform," said State Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove).

Lawmakers-- most of whom had not yet read the bill-- did not appear concerned they'd be asked to vote on it within 24 hours.

ABC7's Charles Thomas asks: "There could be a vote tomorrow and you haven't read it yet?"

"Uh, we're pretty quick readers around here!" said State Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago).

"Every item in this bill is either something we've talked about previously or a distant cousin of something we've talked about previously," said State Rep. Lou Lang, (D-Skokie).

"It's packaged a little bit differently but none of the component parts are new or novel," said Nekritz.

Its sponsors say the pension reform bill would save Illinois taxpayers $160 billion over the next 30 years. It purportedly reduces retiree cost of living adjustments, allows current workers voluntary 401ks, sets higher retirement ages and forces the state to make annual contributions.

"This plan is a bunch of smoke and mirrors. It sounds good but when you get into it you see that the changes we so desperately need just aren't there," said Christina Rasmussen, Illinois Policy Institute.

State Rep. Mike Tryon says the state constitution explicitly does not allow pensions to be diminished or impaired.

"You can't just prepare a solution on public policy regarding pension and throw the constitution out," said Tryon.

Gov. Pat Quinn supports the bill. But one Republican primary candidate for Quinn's job-- businessman Bruce Rauner—says, "it barely scratches the surface." Another GOP hopeful, State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, questioned the bill's constitutionality: "I do not believe it will withstand judicial review."

But Senator Bill Brady-- a gubernatorial candidate who served on a conference committee that helped write the measure-- is supportive.

"I think it's a win-win and the excuses I'm hearing from people who don't want to support it don't add up to me," said Sen. Brady.

Majority Democrats in both chambers are divided. Republicans are needed to help pass the measure.

"I'm Republican, we're supposed to be for pension reform. I'm going to look at this bill very seriously because I believe it may be the first good incremental step," said Sandack.

The House-Senate Conference Committee that wrote most of the bill will meet Tuesday morning. They will conduct a brief hearing then send the bill to both the House and the Senate at the same time.

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