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Forum: Cullerton pension bill deserves passage

Updated: July 22, 2013 6:33PM



Although Illinois lawmakers didn’t enact pension legislation this spring, they did settle several debates. The essence of Senate Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), has been overwhelmingly voted down twice by the Senate, and rightly so because it is not fair or constitutional. The bill would make steep cuts to the pension benefits of teachers, nurses, caregivers and other public servants, including those who are now retired.

While the Madigan bill was soundly rejected by the Senate, Senate Bill 2404, a much fairer proposal that will bring stability and solvency to the state’s pension funds, won solid approval. There is no excuse for not giving it a vote in the House in special session.

Senate Bill 2404, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), is now the only legal, comprehensive and credible solution on the table. Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) actuaries have found that Madigan’s bill would force employees to pay more for their pensions than what they are worth. In other words, the bill’s backers want a retirement system that penalizes public workers for paying into it.

In addition, the Madigan bill would breach federal law by cutting pensions so steeply that TRS and, likely, the State Universities Retirement System would fail to qualify as alternatives to Social Security. This would eventually force school districts, universities and community colleges — as well as employees — to begin paying Social Security payroll taxes, leading to property tax hikes or higher tuition.

Our coalition did not come easily to backing the pension changes contained in the Cullerton bill, which will impact every state worker and retiree. But the choice and consideration offered by this bill make it much fairer and far less perilous to the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of public servants.

State representatives should be given the chance to vote on the bill. It is the best and swiftest way to resolve this long-standing conflict. The Senate did its job this session, it’s time for the House to do the same.

Michael T. Carrigan

President, Illinois AFL-CIO

On behalf of the We Are One Illinois union coalition

Guard your wallets, again

As usual, Illinois legislators are in denial about the state pension mess. It’s as if they believe the pension fairy will drop by and solve the problems. There are no tough choices being made.

Meanwhile, the state gets another financial rating downgrade and the pile of unpaid bills grows. What is needed is an overhaul of traditional, defined-benefit pensions or even abolition of them and replacement with 401(k) plans, as in the private sector.

School districts should pay their pension liabilities rather than give away the store and expect the state to pick up the tab. To fix this mess, another tax increase is on the horizon, no doubt.

Thomas Cechner

Lockport



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