SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers could take action this summer on overhauling at least some of the state’s underfunded pension systems.
The controversial move could come as early as Aug. 17, when members of the House return to the Capitol to deal with the proposed expulsion of indicted state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago.
Word that House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, was considering a possible vote was first reported Wednesday by the Capitol Fax political blog.
Legislation that could be acted upon is a proposal approved by the Senate on May 31. It would alter the retirement system for state workers and members of the General Assembly, but not the system affecting schoolteachers.
Under the proposal, employees ranging from prison guards to child welfare workers could keep the 3 percent compounded cost-of-living adjustments of their pensions if they give up access to state-sponsored health insurance and forego having future wage increases count toward their final pension.
If employees accept a lower cost-of-living-adjustment, they would be able to keep their health insurance and have future wage hikes included in their pension calculation.
Senate Democrats, who crafted the measure, say it could save $23 billion to $31 billion over the next three decades.
A coalition of unions representing state employees issued a statement Wednesday, slamming the proposal as “unfair” and “unconstitutional.”
“This bill would gut the provision allowing retirees on fixed incomes to keep up with rising costs. It would burden retirees with the overwhelming share of the state’s pension debt, punishing middle-class public servants for the sins of politicians,” said the statement from the We Are One coalition.
Gov. Pat Quinn has been urging action on pension reform since lawmakers left town in May. But he wants lawmakers to act on a plan that includes pension changes for schoolteachers and university employees.
“I’d like to get to the finish line completely. I think everyone understands the importance in Illinois of comprehensive pension reform,” Quinn told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s our moment and I would really like to see the Legislature roll up their sleeves and get the job done sooner rather than later.”
On Wednesday, Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson added, “The governor would like to see all the necessary steps taken to eliminate the unfunded pension liability and restore fiscal stability to Illinois.”
While Republicans and Democrats have said they favor some kind of pension reform as a way to cut costs, reduce an $83 billion unfunded liability and ward off a possible downgrade in the state’s credit rating, it could be a tough vote for many of them on Aug. 17.
Because it has an immediate effective date, the measure needs a three-fifths supermajority to pass, leaving some observers questioning whether the proposal will ever make it to Quinn’s desk.
In the Senate, the proposal received the bare minimum of 30 votes on May 31. Republicans Bill Brady of Bloomington and Shane Cultra of Onarga voted “yes.”
Efforts to reduce the state’s pension obligations fell apart in the House at the end of last spring’s legislative session when disagreements over whether school districts should have to pay a larger share of employee pension costs could not be resolved.
The legislation is House Bill 1447.