Lawmaker Optimistic On Pensions Deal

Story by Amanda Vinicky
January 06, 2013

With days left in the legislative session, there is still no resolution for the state’s nearly $100 billion of pension debt. But key legislators say it is still possible to cut a deal before Wednesday, when a new legislature is sworn into office.

A Sunday meeting of the Illinois House accomplished little, but Monday could be pivotal in determining if the General Assembly does anything to cut down the state’s pension costs, or if it will be a burden left to the incoming legislature.

A committee is scheduled to take up a proposal that would reduce state employees’ benefits, while at the same time requiring state employees, teachers and university workers to put 2-percent more of their paychecks into their retirement plans
“There is enough time to get it done,” said State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), who helped author the proposal. “There are bills that are positioned in such a way that we could get them out of committee, get them voted on in the House and in the Senate, before Tuesday evening.”

Under Nekritz’s plan, workers would also not get yearly benefit increases until they are 67, and current retirees would have to go six years without those cost-of-living bumps.

Nekritz admits that unions are not on board, and even if the House advances the plan, it could be setup for failure in the Senate. That is where Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) prefers a different method of bringing down the state’s pension costs.

Cullerton wants to offer state workers the option of taking a cut in their health care or take a cut in pay raises retirees’ get every year.

House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) said differences are to be expected.

“I think the key consideration is how can we get this done,” Madigan said. “I don’t think we should get hung up on details. I think we ought to be focused on getting something done.”

A difficulty, according to Rep. Nekritz, is that there is no immediate consequence for inaction - as with the federal government’s end-of-year fiscal cliff.

“We’re on a slope, but we never face a cliff,” she said. “It’s in a lot of ways easier to just continue sliding than to it is to solve it, but we have to get there.”

Speaker Madigan said he is bargaining in good faith, and is optimistic a plan will pass.

Gov. Pat Quinn said Friday that a breakthrough came in negotiations when Madigan backed off a controversial proposal to shift the costs of teachers’ pensions onto school districts – something Quinn had supported.

New lawmakers are scheduled to be sworn in on Wednesday.

Story source: Illinois Public Radio