Illinois Lawmakers Pass Pension Bill

Illinois lawmakers on Tuesday approved a bill proposed to fund the state's $100 billion unfunded pension liability.

The House voted 62-53 in favor of the bill -- just two votes more than it needed for passage -- and the Senate voted 30-24 in favor, the bare minimum it needed to pass.

The bill proposes changing how cost of living adjustments are paid out, creating pauses up to five years when those COLAs are funded and raising the retirement age for those aged 45 and under.

Gov. Pat Quinn said he will sign the bill as soon as he gets it.

"Since I took the oath of office, I've pushed relentlessly for a comprehensive pension reform solution that would erase a $100 billion liability and restore fiscal stability to Illinois," Quinn said in a statement. "Today, we have won. The people of Illinois have won."

Senate President John J. Cullerton issued a statement the passage of the bill lauding his fellow legislators for compromising.

"When it comes to pension reform, a compromise was found at the intersection of policy and political feasibility. The General Assembly stumbled at this intersection for years. Now it's time to move forward and allow the courts to rule on the constitutionality of our approach," Cullerton said.

The bill was backed by Quinn and the state's four legislative leaders, who announced the pension reform deal last week with intentions of cutting $160 billion over 30 years.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard, who's also running for governor, voted against the bill.

"What's the contingency if in fact Gov. Quinn goes out and puts us billions of dollars in the hole, and the Supreme Court says this is unconstitutional?" Dillard said. The bill faced an unknown outcome from rank and file members and created some unusual political alliances.

GOP gubernatorial candidates Bruce Rauner and Dan Rutherford found themselves aligned with labor and Lt. Governor Shelia Simon in opposition.

Sen. Mark Kirk said the Illinois General Assembly "shouldn't pass a bill that neither lawmakers nor the voters have had time to read," and Madigan admitted last week the vote will be "very difficult."

Retirees who worked for the state fear the deal will seriously cut their monthly income and have asked lawmakers to vote no.

"We put in a certain amount, and they're supposed to match it," said Gloria Smith Armstrong, a nurse for 29 years. "Well we've done that, but they haven't. So now they're saying they want to take our money to cover what they didn't put in."

"I'm very old at this point in time," said Gwendolyn Lee who spent 32 years as a social worker. "I cannot go back and start working with the mentally ill who are with substance abuse and who are prone to violence."

Now that the pension deal is approved, a legal fight is expected from labor unions.

"Litigation is inevitable, and I hope that the courts issue an expedited ruling as to the constitutionality of the legislation," Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford said. "The sooner the better, so we can move our great state forward."

Dan Montgomery of the Illinois Federation of Teachers said they will move forward with litigation as soon as possible.

"It's the triumph of politics over the rule of law. Unnecessary, we think it's illegal, and we think it's a slap in the face to hundreds of thousands of teachers and public workers," Montgomery said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement praising the bill's passage, but also said the lawmakers' work is not finished.

"The pension crisis is not truly solved until relief is brought to Chicago and all of the other local governments across our state that are standing on the brink of a fiscal cliff because of our pension liabilities. Without providing the same relief to local governments, we know that taxpayers, employees, and the future of our state and local economies will remain at risk," Emanuel said.

Illinois has the worst-funded state pension system in the country.

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