Pension shift bill fails in Senate

Pension shift bill fails in Senate

SPRINGFIELD -- Legislation that would have gradually shifted public university and college pension costs from the state to the institutions failed, 21-33, in the Illinois Senate Friday night.

All area senators, including Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, voted against the measure.

The failure of the legislation also means that long-sought relief from the state procurement code will not be enacted.

The bill (SB 1687) had passed the House on Thursday.

Senate sponsor Daniel Biss, an Evanston Democrat, acknowledged that the legislation could not be considered major pension reform.

Republicans pounced on that point, noting that the majority Democrats had failed to address pension reform this spring.

"Your failure to deliver on the biggest issue before us this year is shameful," said Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine.

Republicans also claimed that universities and colleges would shift the pension costs to parents and students paying tuition at universities, and property taxpayers who support community colleges.

"In the end, the way community colleges will pay for this will be to raise property taxes or tuition, and the way that universities will pay for it is by raising tuition," said Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon.

"This is not going to help our economy," said Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington."This is not going to help students afford a higher education."

But Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said the money saved by the state could end up paying Illinois' backlog of bills and providing more support to higher education.

Beginning in July 2014, according to the legislation, universities and community colleges would begin to start assuming a portion of pension costs in increments of a 1/2 percent a year. The first-year cost of the program to the University of Illinois would be $4 million, UI officials said Thursday.

In addition to the provision related to pension payments, the legislation offered three distinct items that officials from the University of Illinois and other institutions had sought:

-- Delays for a year the implementation of a return to service rules affecting retired universoty employees;

-- Frees university employees from regulations under the state procurement code when using funds other than those from the state general revenue funds;

-- Requires universities to inventory equipment only when items are valued at more than $2,500.