Less comprehensive pension bill wins narrow support in Senate

Less comprehensive pension bill wins narrow support in Senate

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois senators narrowly approved a slimmed-down pension reform measure Wednesday, but only after rejecting a more ambitious plan that had bipartisan support, although not enough.

The proposal (SB 1) which was approved, 30-22, is sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and was modified Wednesday so that it covers only active teachers. For now it would have no effect on state employees, university employees, judges or legislators.

Two companion pieces of legislation sponsored by Cullerton, covering the other employee groups, were not called for a vote.

No Republicans voted for the Cullerton pension bill, and a number of Democrats, including Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, also voted against it.

"Something needs to be done to reform the system and I'm working to bring all the parties together on something we all can agree upon," he said. "But I don't think we're there yet."

He said that "a lot of my constituents" — which includes a large number of state and university employees — "are coming to realize that we need to do something to reform the system but I don't think that (Cullerton's bill) was the answer."

Cullerton's bill would give active public school teachers downstate and in the Chicago suburbs a choice between access to state-subsidized health care coverage and compounded, annual 3 percent increases in their pension.

Supporters claim Cullerton's bill has a better chance of being found constitutional because it offers state employees the choice.

The other pension reform measure — which was rejected by the Senate Wednesday (SB 35) — promised greater cost savings but opponents said it was more likely to be found unconstitutional. That measure, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Skokie, attracted some Republican support but not enough from Democrats. It failed, 23-30, and among East Central Illinois senators got backing only from Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington.

"I see all of this as a gradual progression," said Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet. "If you start tweaking this cost of living adjustment cap on people who have already retired, you started putting this thing together."

Rose said he wished the Legislature would stay in session for the next two weeks — when it is scheduled to take a recess — "on joint House and Senate meetings and just focus on this and not anything else. I would take everything else off."

Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, criticized the "piecemeal approach" of Cullerton's bill.

The Senate president acknowledged there's more work to do.

"I will continue to advocate for a more comprehensive package that addresses state employees, university employees and the General Assembly retirement systems," Cullerton said in a statement. "The work of building a coalition of 30 votes is going to require more heavy lifting. I'm committed to this goal and look forward to passing a full reform plan this session."

He said his pension plan would save the state at least $18 billion over the next 30 years and would reduce the state's unfunded liability by $4.7 billion. But Biss' bill, supporters said, would have saved the state as much as $160 billion over 30 years and would have reduced the unfunded liability by $28 billion.

Illinois' pension system, which is ranked the worst in the nation, has an unfunded liability of close to $100 billion. Gov. Pat Quinn has warned that pension benefits and laws have to be revised before pension costs cut even more into state programs and services, including education and higher education.

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Sid Saltfork wrote on March 20, 2013 at 10:03 pm

If the bill included retired teachers, it would not pass the constitutional tests in the courts.  Applying it only to currently employed teachers still faces a challenge to the constitution in the courts.  Of course, the Judges Pension System is exempt from the "pension reform".  That was not an oversight by the legislators.  It was intended to buy a favorable opinion in the state courts since a similar court decision in the past did not allow the judges pensions to be messed with.  That stands as a precedent in any lawsuit pertaining to "diminishing" benefits.

Expect a Whoosh of current teachers taking retirement prior to the effective date of the bill if it is passed in the House of Representatives.  Teachers do not pay into Social Security.  Therefore; there is no reason to continue working with the choice of no health insurance, or no Cost of Living Allowance to keep up with inflation, and higher health insurance premiums.  The number of teaching majors in the universities has decreased in the past few years.  Who can blame students for not wanting to enter the teaching profession?  With fewer teachers, classroom size will increase.

All of this mess is due to the legislators, and governors not paying the required employer contributions into the pension systems while the employees paid with every paycheck.  Of course; the spending on corporate tax breaks, pork barrel projects, and municipal grants were paid with the money due to the pension systems.  The teachers did not make this mess.  The politicians made the mess in order to get votes, and "campaign donations".

Watch to see if the General Assembly (legislators) Pension System is exempted from "pension reform" just as the Judges Pension System has been exempted.