URBANA — Two top Republican officials in Illinois predicted Wednesday that the Legislature would approve a pension-revision bill either late this year, after the Nov. 6 election, or in early 2013.
"The fact of the matter is it's got to happen. The stability and strength of the pension systems is diminishing everyday. Millions of dollars lost," said state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, his party's candidate for governor in 2010.
Brady said he believes Democrats, who control the Legislature, will attempt to pass the controversial reforms during the so-called lame duck session between the election and the seating of a new Legislature in early January.
"That isn't fair to the people of Illinois. The Legislature should have to stand up in front of the people and support programs like solidifying and strengthening the pension system with minor reforms, frankly, that would move our state forward," said Brady, who is a member of a pension system task force appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn last spring.
Brady said he favored a negotiated change that would allow state retirees to continue to receive health insurance in exchange for smaller cost-of-living increases.
"If we were to achieve 100 percent acceptance of those reforms we could strengthen and solidify, and fully fund the system in 30 years and provide savings of over $100 billion," Brady said.
He said a Democratic plan to pass retirement system costs onto local school districts is "a poison pill" that is "a liability shift to our local property taxpayers."
"They knew that we would not stand for them passing on their past sins, when it comes to funding the system, to the property taxpayers, university and college students and so forth. We told them it was a killer," said Brady.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, also predicted a pension change would be enacted this winter.
"My sense is that's probably a good political opportunity to get it done during that time," said Rutherford, who was in Champaign-Urbana to support local GOP candidates. "I've come out in support of changing the state public pension systems a long time ago. It's not been popular. I have people who have been upset. I get it. They don't want a change. But we've got to respond to it."
He said he would support offering state retirees a choice between a defined-benefit package with a higher premium and a defined-contribution package.
He also said he would be open to shifting pension costs to local school districts and universities — if it was part of a broader agreement.
"I would not remove that from the table for discussion because I'm not so sure that it isn't a fair situation where the local district does pick up a part of it," he said. "That could be on the table, but it should be part of a complete discussion of issues on the table. You don't negotiate one piece of the contract and hope that the rest comes along. If that is put on the table, then you also discuss unfunded state mandates, distribution of categorical grants to schools and transportation issues."
Brady was in Champaign-Urbana, along with Adam Adrzejewski, the chairman of the For the Good of Illinois political action committee, to endorse John Bambenek of Champaign for the state Senate. Bambenek is the Republican challenger to Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign.
Brady called the 67 percent income tax increase approved in January 2011 with support from Frerichs and other Democrats "probably the single biggest nail in the coffin to supporting jobs in Illinois."
"We have to do everything we can to repeal that tax, to free up the capital to be reinvested in Illinois' private sector," said Brady.
Bambenek, too, called for repeal of the income tax increase.
"That would be the second vote. The first would be on a state budget that allows that repeal to happen and still have a balanced budget," he said.