Pension Plans Advance in the Illinois Legislature

March 14, 2013

A pair of pension measures met success in the Illinois House on Thursday, a day after a Senate panel approved two other proposals. 

Supporters of overhauling the state's underfunded pension systems see it as a sign it could happen this spring. 

It was the first time the House passed legislation that could have a significant impact on state employees' retirement benefits, as well as that of teachers and university workers.

One measure caps the amount of salary a pension can be based on. The other raises the retirement age.

House Democrats' point woman on pensions, State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), acknowledged they are important milestones, but she hinted that they will not become law in their current form.

"I don't know whether they're test votes or not. They're real votes, but they're not," Nekritz said. "I still think we have to put the whole package together in a way that hands the Supreme Court one piece of legislation to consider, and hand the Senate one piece of legislation to consider."

A House committee did give bi-partisan approval to a comprehensive pension package. It includes the salary cap and age increase, but it also requires workers to put more of their paychecks toward retirement and it reduces their benefits.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross has helped lead the charge, and he voted for both measures. Still, he is frustrated it is being dealt with piecemeal.

"This is for all practical purposes legislating by multiple choice," Cross said.

Cross is co-sponsor of a more comprehensive package that also requires employees contribute more toward their pensions, and reduces their benefits.  That advanced out of a House committee with bipartisan support.

That same plan also won a Senate panel's approval on Wednesday, but so did another package, backed by Senate President John Cullerton and Gov. Pat Quinn.

The jumble of measures may be an apt metaphor for the state of negotiations.

Legislative solutions to Illinois' pension gap are whirling around, but there is no consensus.

Many lawmakers are hesitant to cut pensions. Meanwhile, unions say it is wrong to punish workers who have always paid their contributions. If benefits are cut, they have vowed to sue.

Story source: Illinois Public Radio