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Our View: A sign of hope for pension reform

Updated: May 5, 2013 2:58PM



The General Assembly reconvenes next week amid indications that momentum may be building to pass a reform bill to reduce the state’s nearly $100 million long-term pension liability.

Whatever optimism exists results from the House’s passage, with votes from members of both parties, of a bill that would trim pension costs by an estimated $100 billion over
30 years, mainly by reducing retirees’ annual
3 percent cost-of-living raises and delaying when they take effect.

The bill passed by a 66-50 vote before the Legislature took a two-week spring break, and it had impressive, and rare, bipartisan support (41 Democrats and 25 Republicans). It’s now in the Senate, where its chances are uncertain.

The Senate needs to get on board the House plan, using it as a springboard to a compromise, so the inevitable constitutional challenge is resolved in court sooner than otherwise. Saying pension reform is urgent is an understatement — Illinois’ massive pension liability grows by about $17 million a day and is eating up nearly 20 percent of the annual state budget.

The problem in the Senate is that its president, John Cullerton (D-Chicago), has his own plan, which he’s pushing over the House bill — contending that the latter is unconstitutional because it reduces pension benefits without a required trade-off.

But Cullerton’s proposal only applies to pensions for suburban and downstate teachers — not three other pension plans covered by the House legislation — and would save the state much less ($40 billion tops).

And it received only the minimum 30 votes needed to pass the Senate (where there are 40 Democrats) and drew no GOP votes. It clearly has less support than the House bill. Cullerton’s qualms about the constitutionality of the House bill may be valid, but it’s the best bet going and has support from both sides of the aisle.

It will need to be tweaked to enhance its chances of passing constitutional muster, but get it through and into court — where rulings will either uphold it or at least provide legislators with guidance on how to proceed further.



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