Illinois public employee pension mess to be debated

2013-05-07T15:39:00Z 2013-10-07T18:01:31Z Illinois public employee pension mess to be debatedKurt Erickson Times Bureau The Quad-City Times
May 07, 2013 3:39 pm  • 

SPRINGFIELD — A proposal designed to address Illinois' public employee pension mess is expected to be debated in a Senate hearing Wednesday.

But it remained unclear Tuesday whether the changes outlined in the union-backed blueprint would save the cash-strapped state enough money.

Although Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said the savings could amount to about $46 billion over the next three decades, Democrats in the House who are backing a different pension fix say they have no idea how much the plan will save.

They said they couldn't thoroughly analyze the legislation because no actual language had been filed as of Tuesday specifically laying out how the legislation would work.

"Until you see a bill, it remains impossible to calculate the savings," said Steve Brown, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

The union-inspired proposal would offer employees and retirees a choice of whether to accept cost-of-living adjustments, future raises or state-sponsored health insurance. The provision, which doesn't exist in a competing House version sponsored by Madigan, is supposed to ensure the law complies with the Illinois Constitution.

Critics said there is no way to know what choices employees will take, making it hard to determine how much savings the plan will generate.

Supporters such as Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, say the savings from the union plan will be "substantial," especially when compared to the Madigan proposal, which doesn't offer workers and retirees any choice.

"It's a risky proposition if it's found unconstitutional. Then it will have actually cost us money," Manar said Tuesday.

Republicans in the Senate remained on the sidelines of the debate. They represent just 19 of the Senate's 59 districts, meaning Democrats under Cullerton's control could push the bill across the Rotunda to the House without GOP assistance.

Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said Tuesday afternoon he hadn't received a briefing on the proposal.

"I knew there were discussions ongoing between Cullerton and the unions. But, the first I read about the substance of the deal was in the news media," Barickman said. "It tells us we're not part of the discussions."

Also sitting on the sidelines as the state's top Democrats try to hammer out a solution before the legislature's May 31 adjournment are tens of thousands of retirees and employees.

Retired Southern Illinois University administrator Don Wilson said he doesn't believe either plan is the right one.

"There needs to be some kind of combination of both," said Wilson, a Carterville resident. "There's got to be some kind of compromise."

With the clock ticking on the spring session, Brown did not dismiss that possibility Tuesday.

"We're going to continue to work with Senator Cullerton," Brown said.

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