Amended pension reform bill passes House committee

House Speaker Michael Madigan's amendment to a Senate pension reform bill passed a House pensions committee Wednesday.

Source: Illinois House Democrats

House Speaker Michael Madigan’s amendment to a Senate pension reform bill passed a House pensions committee Wednesday.

Edward Cox, Assistant City Editor

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan pushed a revised pension reform bill through a House pension committee Wednesday in a near unanimous vote.

Madigan made amendments to the bill, which squeezed through a senate floor vote near the end of March, that would require public employees to pay more into their pensions, retire at a later age and receive benefits under a capped salary system.

Madigan’s amendments to Senate President John Cullerton’s bill came in a 271-page packet that legislators and labor union member spent hours reviewing. The amendments would ensure full funding of the public pension system by 2045. Should the state fail to make good on these payments, public employees would be able to take the state to court, according to the revised bill.

The House personnel and pension committee voted 9-1 for the bill Wednesday morning. The bill can go before the House floor for a vote as early as Thursday.

State Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington), a representative on the committee who supported the bill, said he believes the proposal will garner bipartisan support.

“It’s a good first step to solving the state’s financial problems,” McSweeney said. “I believe it is saving the pension system.”

The amended bill would change the calculation method the state uses to pay back its pension debt. The amendment incorporated an earlier bill proposed by state Rep. Darlene Senger (R-Naperville) that would spread out pension contributions. The revised bill would guarantee full funding of the state’s five pension funds after the government has paid back its debt, Senger said.

“The changes the Speaker made basically are a different way of reducing benefits,” said Dave Urbanek, Teachers’ Retirement System spokesman.

Labor unions have reacted strongly against the bill. Representatives from labor unions under the We Are One Illinois Coalition protested against the bill in the House. Union officials argued the proposed cuts to pension benefits are unconstitutional and would be struck down in court.

Laborers’ Local 2002’s Michael Stout, who argued against the amendments in the House, said both versions of the bill are unconstitutional.

“I wish (Madigan) would sit down with us and talk with us more and ask for input from us,” Scott said.

The amendments Madigan proposed are the culmination of three years of House work on the pension problem, Senger said. The amended bill largely consists of pension reform measures sponsored by House Republican Leader Tom Cross and state Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Buffalo Grove) in House Bill 3411.

Madigan’s amendments to the bill get rid of the option between public-funded health care and reduced cost of living arrangement benefits available in Cullerton’s original bill, which some representatives — including Cullerton — said are unconstitutional.

Madigan plans to shift public pension payment from the state to school districts in a separate bill, Senger said.