SPRINGFIELD -- Pension benefits could be reduced for thousands of retirees and active state employees under a plan approved by an Illinois House committee Tuesday morning.
The legislation, SB 1673, was approved 6-3 by the House Personnel and Pensions Committee. Five of the "yes" votes came from Democrats. One Republican member of the panel voted "yes" while three others voted "no."
The legislation faces an uncertain future on the House floor because most of the chamber's Republicans oppose it on grounds that it could lead to local property tax increases. One of the provisions of the bill requires that universities and school districts assume the responsibility of covering retirement costs, beginning in July 2013. The cost assumption will be phased in over several years.
The bill could be voted on by the full House as soon as today.
"I would simply like to make the point," said House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, a sponsor of the bill, "that there is a concept in America that we all strive to live under which is called responsibility. Responsibility for our actions.
"And if one person can spend money and send the bill to someone else, that's not responsible. That's not responsibility. It's unAmerican."
Madigan told his colleagues that "we have been called on to administrer a lot of tough medicine" in the spring session of the Legislature, including cuts to Medicaid and state employees' health insurance coverage.
'I have said to people from the beginning of the session that service this year in the General Assembly is not for the faint of heart," Madigan said. "But as the sponsor of this bill I am telling working men and women that their cost of living adjustment is not going to be as rich. It will still be there, it will just not be as rich. That's tough medicine."
Earlier, University of Illinois President Robert Easter told the committee that the UI supported the pension changes.
"We're very troubled by the need to have to pick up these costs," Easter said in an interview after the hearing, "but we're troubled significantly by the instability and the lack of confidence in the current system. People who have opportunities to go elsewhere or people who are long-term employees deserve to have some confidence that the system will be there as well."
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