Illinois House Adjourns for the Day Without Pension Vote - NBC Chicago
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Illinois House Adjourns for the Day Without Pension Vote

Lawmakers will return to session at 11 a.m. Tuesday



    The Illinois House on Monday adjourned without calling a long-awaited plan to address Illinois' worst-in-the-nation pension problem for a vote.

    Lawmakers will return to session at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

    The plan -- SB1673 -- cleared an early hurdle Monday when an Illinois House committee approved a proposal that freezes cost-of-living increases and calls for higher employee contributions.

    Members of a pension committee voted 6-3 to give the go-ahead to the plan backed by Gov. Pat Quinn and House Minority Leader Tom Cross, sending it on to the full House for a floor vote. The plan received four Democratic votes and two Republican votes.

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    The sponsor of the bill, Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekritz, said both Democrats and Republicans were assessing how many overall votes they had in support of the measure. It was unclear whether the full House would consider it, but Nekritz said lawmakers would meet Monday afternoon to consult.

    "When we have the votes, we'll call it," Nekritz said. "We have a much stronger bipartisan bill here than we've ever had in the past. We have a much greater likelihood of success than we've ever had in the past."

    House Minority Leader Tom Cross said he would work with his Republican caucus to get the measure passed on the floor.

    "We've got to quit talking and we've got to pass something," Cross said. "This is something that has to happen. It's time has come."

    Opponents said the plan is unfair and unconstitutional and won't solve the problem. They said lawmakers must consider other revenue sources, such as closing tax loopholes. They asked legislators to attend a pension summit to try to work out a plan that they say will pass constitutional muster.

    Those against the legislation also stressed that state workers and employees have held up their end of the deal, making their pension contributions as required, while the state used pension funds as a credit card.

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    Cinda Klickna, president of the Illinois Education Association, said many teachers are scared because they have planned their lives based on what they thought their pension benefits would be.

    "Their pension is their life savings. It is their safety net," Klickna said. "What we're talking about today begins to tear at that safety net. We are talking about people's lives."

    The plan emerged over the weekend when the House reconvened for the final days of the lame-duck session. New lawmakers are sworn in Wednesday, the day Quinn had set as a deadline for pension legislation.

    The measure moves to the floor but when it's called for a vote is uncertain. There are enough changes in the legislation that supporters don't know how many rank-and-file votes they can muster.

    The state's unfunded pension liability is estimated at roughly $96 billion, and Quinn says the deficit grows by $17 million a day. The piling debt has hurt the state's credit rating, limiting its ability to borrow. It also has eaten up more and more money for education and other public services.

    The amended pension bill would not award annual cost-of-living increases until the age of 67 and would increase employee contributions by 2 percent of salary, spread over two years. Once cost-of-living increases take effect at 67, they would be applied only to the first $25,000 of a retiree's pension.

    It also would require the state to fully fund its portion of pensions under threat of legal action by the accounts' administrators.

    That's key to hundreds of thousands of workers and retirees who have been forced to pay their share over the years. The huge shortfall followed decades of inattention by lawmakers and governors to save up for state workers' retirement plans, including years where they skipped payments.

    Various plans have been floated in the past year for bumped-up contributions and less-generous benefits for current employees, raising the retirement age and reducing cost-of-living adjustments for retirees. But the "cost shift" of the employer portion of teachers' pensions from the state to school districts has stymied attention.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.