Illinois Senate rejects Biss bill for pension reform, approves less ambitious plan

Edward Cox, Reporter

A watered down pension reform bill squeezed through the Illinois Senate on Wednesday after lawmakers rejected a more comprehensive proposal from  state Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston.

Lawmakers approved the bill sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) with a 30-22 vote, sending the proposal to the Illinois General Assembly. The bill promises to reduce the state’s $96.7 billion unfunded pension liability by 2045.

“Obviously this is a very tough vote for many people … it’s not often you can push a green button and save 18 to 40 billion dollars over the next 40 years,” Cullerton said before senators voted on the bill a second time.

Biss’ pension reform bill failed to pass the Senate floor by seven votes.

His plan would have immediately reduced the state’s unfunded pension liabilities by $28 billion and saved $150 billion over 30 years, according to his website. State employees would pay 2 percent more to their pension funds and would have the option to join a 401(k)-styled pension plan. Some legislators argue components such  as the raise in retirement age and diminishments in cost of living adjustments violated the state’s pension protect clause that public pension not be “diminished or impaired.”

A bipartisan House bill containing language from Biss’ legislation is pending a floor vote.

Critics such as state Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) say Cullerton’s bill does not go far enough toward reducing the state’s unfunded pension liabilities. The bill would reform only the Teachers’ Retirement System, the largest of the state’s five public pension systems.

Cullerton argued that his pension plan would be more constitutionally viable. He included a part which would give state employees a choice between accepting a decrease in cost of living adjustments and losing state-supported health insurance in retirement.

— Edward Cox