Mon January 7, 2013
Pension Reform Passes Committee, No House Vote Yet
There’s no deal on a pension reform plan at the Illinois Capitol…yet.
The Illinois House adjourned without a floor vote on a contentious plan to change the state’s troubled public employee pension system. An Illinois House committee today gave bi-partisan approval to a plan sponsored by Representative Elaine Nekritz. She says she expects it to be called for a vote by the House Tuesday, at the earliest.
The proposal is drawing protests from state employee unions. It would freeze cost-of-living increases and require higher employee contributions. It sets aside the issue of whether school districts should help pay for teachers’ retirement benefits. House Republican Leader Tom Cross says the plan is the right move, given the state of Illinois’ pension system.
“We are the worst funded pension system in the country. Everybody in the state knows it. Everybody in the country knows it. And in fact I suspect most people around the world now know."
Cross says the package will satisfy the credit ratings agencies casting a gloomy outlook for the state’s finances. He says it'll ensure pension spending doesn't crowd out funding for education and other needs. And, Cross says, it'll provide teachers and state workers with the certainty they will get a pension when they retire.
But a coalition of unions says those workers did nothing to deserve getting their retirement benefits cut. Henry Bayer heads AFSCME, the state's largest public employees union.
“The governor - who's supporting this bill, and the sponsor of the bill - they're taking the Tea Party approach: let's just cut, cut, cut, and let's not pay this $30 billion that they owe.”
The unions have vowed to sue if the pension fix includes benefit cuts.
The Senate's Democratic leadership also questions this plan's constitutionality, and prefers a different one. So even if the House passes its pension overhaul, it's unclear if there's the time or the will for the Senate to do the same. The Senate is not currently in session. The General Assembly’s session ends Wednesday.