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Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Unions Wade Into Pension Fray

Public-employee unions are opposed to current plan to fix pension mess

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    NEWSLETTERS

    House Minority Leader Jim Durkin said the deal was made during a Wednesday morning meeting, hopefully setting the stage for a solution to Illinois' roughly $100 billion pension crisis.

    Passage of the most recent attempt to fix Illinois’ pension mess this week is hardly assured, and unions representing rank and file members against the proposal are mobilizing to ensure its defeat.

    The Associated Press reports a coalition of union representatives known as We Are One is targeting lawmakers it thinks it can persuade to vote no when the General Assembly convenes beginning Tuesday. A key focus is on the Senate, which is seen as more union friendly and where 30 of 59 votes are needed for passage.

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    The state's $100 billion unfunded liability comes from years of lawmakers shorting or skipping payments to the state's pension funds. Public-employee unions are opposed to the current plan designed to fix the shortfall, arguing cuts in future benefits violates a provision of the state Constitution that says pension benefits may not be reduced.

    On Wednesday, legislative leaders in Springfield announced a compromise they say saves $160 billion over 30 years and fully fund the systems by 2044. The deal raises the retirement age for people age 45 and under on a sliding scale basis, changes the cost-of-living increase from the current rate of 3 percent and caps the amount of salary on which a pension benefit is based.

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    After the House and Senate approved the procedural steps Wednesday afternoon, the four leaders of the General Assembly announced their picks for the panel that will try to forge a compromise to fix the pension programs, which have saddled the state with $97 billion in debt.

    However, employees would also miss some annual cost-of-living adjustments depending on their age, which union members say would reduce benefits.

    Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, told the AP that 25 "persuadable" lawmakers will be the subject of the most intense lobbying efforts. Much of the plan’s chances for survival rely on Democratic senators from moderate swing districts where election opponents can hammer them for inaction on pension reform or for being too tough on state employees.