Story Summary

Illinois Pension Reform

A pension deal worked out between Senate President John Cullerton and state employee unions was approved in committee, and now moves on to the full Senate.

A different pension proposal backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan recently passed the Illinois House of Representatives.

The state’s pension system is nearly $100 billion in debt.

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A bill that, some say, could have erased Illinois’ $100 billion pension fund deficit was defeated in the state Senate.

Now we wait to see whether the state House accepts an alternative pension bill.

House Speaker Michael Madigan’s plan got less than half the votes it needed for passage in the Senate Thursday.

The alternative, offered by Senate President John Cullerton, would let retirees choose between annual cost-of-living raises and state-paid healthcare; the House has  until tonight to vote on that version.

This is scheduled to be the final day of the spring legislative session.

The Illinois Senate tonight overwhelmingly defeated a major overhaul of the state’s heavily indebted government worker pension systems, throwing into question whether cost-saving reforms will be approved before Friday night’s adjournment deadline.

The measure, whose architect is House Speaker Michael Madigan, mustered only 16 votes in the Senate while 42 voted against it. The bill needed 30 to pass.

Read more at Chicago Tribune.

Lawmakers in Springfield have a busy two days ahead of them.  On the agenda: Concealed weapons, pension reform, gay marriage and the state budget.

A lot of what happened today happened behind closed doors in the office of House Speaker Mike Madigan in an effort to reach a compromise on concealed carry legislation.

Lawmakers want that done. They’re facing a court-imposed June 9th deadline. They’re close on that, and nearing a deal on expanding gambling.

House democrats went back and forth over the proposal that would put five new casinos in a state that’s in dire need of revenue, including one in Chicago. Proponents are still negotiating and working toward passage by adjournment Friday, but there’s some uncertainty about how the governor feels about the plan.

capitolGovernor Pat Quinn has vetoed two previous expanded gaming bills and this time insists that pension reform must come first. In short, he will not sign a gambling bill until lawmakers give him a pension bill he can put his signature on, one that does a lot to ease the state’s nearly $100 billion dollar funding shortfall.

Lawmakers in the house and senate scheduled to get back at it at 11 a.m. tomorrow

casinoGovernor Pat Quinn says he won’t sign a bill expanding gambling in Illinois until the state fixes its pension mess.

With less than two weeks remaining in the spring legislative session, lawmakers are debating two separate plans to reduce the state’s near $100 billion pension debt by reducing future benefits.

Quinn says, until that work is finished, any talk of adding new casinos or slot machines will have to wait.

illinoislawmakerspensionThe stage is set for a legislative showdown on Illinois pension reform.

The state Senate endorsed a plan to save the state about $50 billion in pension expenses; a House alternative proposed by Speaker Mike Madigan would save three times as much.

The plans differ on issues like retirement age, health care coverage and cost-of-living pension raises.

Now comes the tense job of reconciling two very different plans and finding a compromise that can survive a court challenge.

Governor Pat Quinn would like a final bill on his desk before the General Assembly holds the final session of the current fiscal year on May 31st.

In the state capitol, it’s a battle over two bills, competing proposals brought forward by two of the state’s top democrats to deal with our nearly $100 billion dollar pension problem.

As expected, the senate pension bill passed this afternoon, basically along party lines, 40-16. But that’s not the end of it.  The House has already passed a competing proposal, with much deeper cuts.

Some call that bill the solution.  Others say it’s a magnet for a lawsuit.

Illinois Senate passes pension bill, sets up showdown with HouseThe state house executive committee heard testimony today about the effects of so-called “cost shift;” passing the cost of teacher pensions along to municipalities.   It’s part of the pain of dealing with the worst pension crisis in the nation.

There was fiery pension debate in the senate with back and forth between two very different plans, proposed by top democrats.  One from the senate president, crafted with union support.  And the other proposed by the house speaker which cuts much deeper.

Under the new plan, the choices are variations on Cullerton’s prior proposals that allow employees and retirees to opt between scaled-back 3 percent compounded, automatic, cost-of-living increases and keeping health care in retirement.

Choice A applies to those currently in the pension systems covering teachers outside Chicago, rank-and-file state employees, university workers and legislators. Employees could opt to take 3 percent yearly cost-of-living adjustments based on simple interest and delay the start of those increases until two years after retirement. In return, they would keep access to health insurance, and future pay raises would be counted toward their pension. They also could enroll in an optional cash-balance plan, and teachers would be eligible for an early retirement option.

Choice B offers a couple more options. Employees could keep their current 3 percent compounded annual cost-of-living adjustments, but they would forgo retiree health care and could not count raises toward their pensions. Workers also could choose to keep the status quo in return for waiting three years to start collecting 3 percent compounded pension increases and paying an additional 2 percent from their paychecks phased in over two years.

The choices are different for those already retired and about to retire. They could continue to get health coverage and 3 percent compounded annual pension bumps but would see those increases frozen for two years in a staggered fashion. Under that scenario, they would receive retiree health care. The other option: keep the 3 percent compounded annual hike and give up access to health care.

Other elements of the plan were billed as lessening the ability for unions to bargain over the benefit changes and employee contribution levels. It also would keep pension funding on the current payment schedule.

The Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.

The Illinois Senate is moving quickly to take up one of two proposals to deal with the worst-funded pension program in the entire nation.  Illinois’ pension debt is nearly $100 billion.

The Senate plan, proposed by Senate President John Cullerton, passed the Executive Committee yesterday afternoon basically along party lines, on a vote of 10-5 — despite objections by a retired teachers group that the plan as proposed violates a provision of the constitution guaranteeing that pensions, once established, will not be reduced in any way.

Senate President Cullerton told WGN this morning that he is quite convinced what he has proposed will pass a constitutional challenge.

“Anybody can file a lawsuit, but the fact that all of the unions would be supportive of the bill, as opposed to going to court and filing a brief against it, is very helpful,” Cullerton said.  “We think that this bill that we have today is very, very certain to withstand legal challenge.”

The Senate is likely to vote today on Senate President Cullerton’s proposal.

House Speaker Michael Madigan’s pension proposal is much different and much more aggressive.  Some observers believe Madigan’s plan is more likely to fail a constitutional challenge.

We should learn more today about which proposal advances further in Springfield.

The Illinois Senate is expected to vote today on a sweeping pension reform bill.

The Senate Executive Committee endorsed it yesterday as part of an effort to reduce the state’s near-$100 billion pension funding deficit.

Last week the House passed a version that would make even deeper cuts in pension benefits by forcing retirees to choose between paid healthcare and cost-of-living pension raises.

The Illinois Retired Teachers Association says the current benefit levels are constitutionally protected; and if either pension reform bill passes, it’ll take the state to court.

It’s coming to a head in the state capitol: What to do about Illinois pensions and trimming a  mountain of debt.

The stage is set for a pension showdown with opposing solutions to the state’s $100 billion dollar dilemma. One plan moved forward in Springfield today. It’s up for a vote before the full senate tomorrow.

The pension plan floated by Senate President John Cullerton passed executive committee this afternoon by a vote of 10 to 5, advancing a measure he says is constitutional and crafted with union participation. Think of it as an alternative to a more ambitious strategy proposed on the other side of the capitol by powerful house speaker Mike Madigan. The Madigan plan, which passed the House last week, would cut much more deeply into Illinois’ unfunded obligations. The concern is it breaks a constitutional promise that established pensions for state workers will not be reduced.

Speaker Madigan’s team charges the senate plan does precious little to cut the state’s $100 billion in pension debt.  And while Cullerton says he has the unions on board, today’s committee hearing revealed he doesn’t have all of them. The Retired Teachers Association came out ready to sue.

That group says it will sue the state if this measure becomes law, calling it unconstitutional.

Interestingly less controversial in Springfield is medical marijuana, which passed that same senate committee today, by the same margin, 10 to 5.


State Capitol in Springfield

The pension deal cut by Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and the state employee unions advanced today, sending the bill to the full Senate for a vote.

The legislation is Cullerton’s latest attempt to pass a pension bill that follows what he believes is a constitutionality sound way to get around promises that retirement benefits would not be reduced once they are established.

“This is the only way around it,” Culleton said.

The bill won approval in the Senate Executive Committee on a 9-5 vote over the protests of the Illinois Retired Teachers Association. The group rejects Cullerton’s belief that the proposal is constitutionally valid because it offers workers and retirees a choice of benefit options.

Bob Pinkerton, the group’s vice president, said the options are basically “either jump off the cliff or I’ll shoot you.”

Pinkerton said his group is prepared to sue the state if the proposal becomes law, saying it would diminish benefits in violation of the constitution.

Chicago Tribune Staff Report
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