Quinn, Legislative Leaders to Discuss Pension Plans

Story by Tony Arnold
January 03, 2013

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Friday one of the most controversial proposals to fix the state’s massive pension debt is temporarily off the table.

Quinn and some legislators have supported a so-called cost shift, which would require local school districts to pick up the tab of their own teacher’s pensions.

Many Republican legislators have opposed that plan, saying it would force local property taxes to go up.

Teachers’ pensions are one of the biggest contributors to the state’s $95 billion pension debt.

Steve Brown, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said lawmakers will meet on Saturday to discuss the details of a compromised bill that would not include the cost shift. Brown said the cost shift is a way to end the extraordinary amount of money the state spends on teacher pensions, but, “We need to try to pass what we can pass.”

Brown said bipartisan support is needed to pass the kind of pension reform needed to be effective.

For months, Quinn has called on lawmakers to pass pension reform in January, before the session ends on Wednesday. With the clock ticking, Quinn met with some suburban lawmakers Friday morning before addressing the media.

Republican State Rep. Darlene Senger, who attended the meeting, said, “The fact they came out of the gate with the cost shift removed really, I think, opened it up to a listening phase.”

But passing any pension reform legislation could still be difficult, since any plan approved by the House would also need the support of the Senate, which adjourned Thursday.

The Senate earlier passed a measure that did not include the cost shift and affected just two of the state’s five separate pension systems. Senate President John Cullerton said that plan is the most legally sound option available, since a legal challenge to any pension reform legislation is likely. If the courts strike down a new pension plan, the legislature could be back to square one.

Quinn said Friday the ideas in the Senate bill will be incorporated, but he didn’t go into specifics. One aspect of the Senate’s measure gives affected state employees a choice between pay raises in retirement or receiving health insurance.

“There are ways you can, in drafting a bill, have what are called backstops that provide for protections against anything being declared unconstitutional,” Quinn said.

Story source: Illinois Public Radio