Universities would take on pension costs, get relief on other rules

SPRINGFIELD -- A measure that would shift employee pension payments from the state government to Illinois public colleges and universities passed the Illinois House 60-55 Thursday night.

Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, voted for the measure, but all other area representatives voted "no."

The bill now moves to the Senate for its vote. Friday is the last scheduled day of the spring legislative session.

Opponents for the most part argued that the legislation would lead to tuition increases at universities, and property tax increases for community college districts.

"Why on earth they would agree to this is beyond me," said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego. "It's a very bad deal."

Under the legislation, beginning in July 2014, the universities and colleges would begin to assume a portion of their employee pension costs at the rate of a 1/2 percentage point a year. The first-year cost to the University of Illinois -- which supported the bill -- was estimated at $4 million, according to UI Vice President Avijit Ghosh.

"I think it's wrong to equate this to a tuition increase," Ghosh said. "There are many factors that increase costs, many factors by which we try to control costs.So I think that people who were trying to equate this to a tuition increase were making a mistake."

It could take as long as 18 years for the university to totally assume all pension payments, he said.

In exchange for agreeing to take on pension costs, the UI will get relief from the state procurement code on all spending that doesn't involve state general revenue funds.

"They're getting some long sought-after procurement changes," said Rep. Elane Nekritz, D-Northbrook, sponsor of the bill. "Most of that deals with their ability to use grant monies and non-state grant monies in a more efficient and effective way without having to go through quite as much as they do now.

Ghosh said the university would continue "to try to fulfill the objectives of what the procurment bill tries to do, but do it in a much more efficient way."

Nekritz said the bill also addresses the university's concerns over former employees returing to work and increases the threshhold at which point the UI has to report inventory to the state.

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kiel wrote on May 30, 2013 at 11:05 pm

So, in short, the U considers the state so incompetent at maintaining the pension system and its labaryntine procurement rules so idotic, odious, and needlessly expensive that the U says, "Fine. We'll do YOUR job if you just friggin' let us do ours!"