One of the toughest issues facing Illinois lawmakers is moving along in the legislature. The House approved a plan supported by House Speaker Michael Madigan this afternoon. It now moves to the Senate.
The comprehensive pension reform plan passed 62-51. The plan is supposed to bring a $97-billion pension deficit under control. State employees would have to contribute two percent more of their earning to their pensions, delay retirement, and would see smaller cost-of-living increases. For the state's part of the deal, it would have to guarantee it would make its required contribution to the system every year.
House Speaker Mike Madigan made a vow that he'll do all he can to get it through the General Assembly.
"I’m committed to the bill, I'm committed to solving the issue. I've spoken to this publicly. That the state's fiscal problems are so bad that they require radical surgery and this is the first step," Madigan said.
DeKalb-area Representative Bob Pritchard voted against the pension bill. He says there's no sense in approving a measure that will be dragged through the courts while costs continue to eat away at the state budget.
"There's no way that our income tax increase is going to roll back in 2015 as it's scheduled to because we are going to have all of this pension cost on an annual basis, and we are going to continue to cutback on some of the very valuable priorities the state has so that we can make these pension payments," said Pritchard.
Pritchard says he's also not happy that judges were excluded from the package. The House speaker says that was done to avoid a conflict of interest, should the plan face a legal challenge.
Governor Pat Quinn's office released the following statement right after the vote:
"Today the Illinois House of Representatives took the biggest step to date towards restoring fiscal stability to Illinois.
“With the passage of this comprehensive pension reform solution, Illinois is closer than ever to addressing a decades-long problem that is plaguing our economy, our bond rating and the future of our children.
“I want to thank Speaker Michael Madigan, Leader Tom Cross, Rep. Elaine Nekritz and members of the House who did the right thing today by voting to preserve the pensions of hard-working state employees and teachers. This solution includes the key reform principles that I have long supported: a COLA adjustment, increase in the retirement age and an increase in the employee contribution. It also includes important refinements as outlined in my 2013 budget.
“Senate Bill 1 is a serious solution to the most serious fiscal challenge our state has ever faced.
“Today’s action sends a strong message to the people and businesses of our state: Illinois is ready for reform and we understand that this reform is critical to building a brighter future for all.”