Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Senate Battles Over Pensions, Passes Cigarette Tax Increase

The legislative session ends Thursday, May 31.

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Senate Clashes Over Pensions

The clock is ticking in Springfield where the Senate is going toe-to-toe over new state laws before the end of the legislative session Thursday, May 31.
 
A plan to pension reduction that included shifting teachers' pensions to local governments became the most hotly contested topic Tuesday, and lawmakers punted. But they did manage to pass a cigarette tax increase and put off the gambling bill for another day.

  "There is a concept in America that we all try to live under, which is called responsibility," said House Speaker Michael Madigan, who favors shifting pension plans for teachers to the local government.
 
Chicago already uses this approach, but the statewide initiative is meeting with opposition from the GOP who believe it will have negative consequences. 
 
"At issue right now, is the idea that we would shift costs on local school districts. Consequently increasing property taxes," said Sen. Christie Radogno (R-Lemont).
 
Others opposed to the shift worry it will cut spending for various school activities.
 
This is one of those unusual years - every member of the Illinois General Assembly will be on the November ballot.  They know pension reform might lead to disgruntled constituents, yet at the same time, they can't ignore an $83 billion dollar shortfall. 
 
This is only a part of the of the plan unveiled to start chipping away at the state's huge pension plan.
 
The plan looks very similar to what Gov. Pat Quinn proposed last month to help control the state's massive pension problem, but with a couple key differences. One of the big ones: It will not push the retirement age for state workers to 67.
 
Illinois' pension deficit comes in at either the worst or the second-worst in the country, and Quinn calls it a major issue that can't wait any longer to be fixed.
 
Lawmakers' proposed core plan would scale back, for example, the automatic 3 percent cost-of-living increases for retirees.
 
As part of the proposed plan, if state employees choose to keep the 3 percent increase, they would lose access to the state health care plan. 
 
Labor unions call the plan unconstitutional, and if it becomes law, a long court battle is expected.

Cigarette Tax Increase

Smokers are one step closer to a price increase after the Illinois Senate approved a plan to raise tobacco taxes by $1 to strengthen the state Medicaid program.
 
The tax increase made its way through the Senate with a 31-27 vote. Now all that stands between the hike and the smoker is the governor, who originally posited the idea.

Gambling

The Gambling bill that passed in the House 69-47 last week that will allow slots at racetracks and add five casinos, including one in Chicago, has been tabled.

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