Illinois lawmakers reach deal on pension reform

$160 billion in savings over the next 30 years – that’s what is on the table after Illinois lawmakers locked themselves in a room together this week. Republican and Democrat leaders have reached a compromise, we’re told, to begin fixing Illinois’ pension problem that simply has grown with each year.

As you can imagine, not everyone is happy about it.

“The president says a deal has been reached, and will continue to work in support of that deal,” said spokesman for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton.

But people who learned of the closed-door meeting wonder if they are making a deal with the devil.

“This is stealing pensions from the people who earned them,” said Henry Bayer of AFSCME.

AFSCME pensions, along with those of other state employee union members, are at stake, and lawmakers who have been watching Illinois drown in pension debt are reportedly rewriting the plan that tens of thousands of state employees have been paying into for decades, including raising the age limit for retirement and tinkering with the cost of living adjustment. It currently goes up 3% a year.

Union members stand to lose the most. Yet they were not at the table when House Speaker Mike Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin drafted the Thanksgiving eve deal.

The We Are One Illinois Coalition of Unions representing state employees issued this statement: “Unions representing hundreds of thousands of public employees and retirees were not included in the leaders` talks. If their new plan is in line with what`s been reported from earlier discussions, then it`s an unfair, unconstitutional scheme that undermines retirement security.”

“The key is to erase a $100 billion liability that’s hovering over our state’s economy, and hurts our state’s economy and hurts our jobs. And if we erase that liability, we’re going to help Illinois in our economy immeasurably and help our tax payers,” Gov. Pat Quinn said.

Other politicians are also pleased that a resolution was reached, like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel who has been pointing fingers at Springfield when Springfield’s financial hurt was effecting Chicago. The chance of it passing at the capital when it comes up for a vote — pretty good, says Chicago Tribune political reporter Rick Pearson, even though it may not be an easy pill to swallow for some.

“You have lawmakers that represent university towns, you have lawmakers that represent towns with prisons in them, everybody’s got a teacher that they represent. I mean, this will be, for many, the hardest vote they’ve ever cast in the General Assembly,” Pearson said.

A long awaited vote expected to be cast in Springfield on December 3.

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