By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois state Senators will decide as early as next week whether they will back a public union authored pension plan, or the reforms being dictated by House Speaker Mike Madigan.
The very powerful House Speaker guided his plan through the lower chamber of the Illinois General Assembly Thursday.
Madigan’s legislation would increase the retirement age for some public employees, trim the sky-rocketing price tag of cost of living adjustments, and limit the salary a public worker can base their pension upon.
Madigan called pension reform “a critical action that must be taken now.”
Illinois has a worst in the nation $130 billion pension debt for its five retirement systems. The state will pay nearly $8 billion toward pensions in the next budget, almost 20 percent of all state spending.
Madigan said his plan now heads to the Senate where it will compete against a plan being championed by public employee unions.
“I could clearly see the fine work of Mr. Henry Bayer,” Madigan said of legislation being given consideration by Senate President John Cullerton. Bayer is the executive director of Illinois’ largest public employee union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.
Madigan added that he believes Bayer and the public employee unions want to “delay” pension reform for as long as they can.
AFSCME along with other public employee unions including Illinois’ teacher unions the Illinois Federation of Teachers and Illinois Education Association issued a joint statement denouncing Madigan’s pension reforms.
“(This plan) is unfair to the active and retired teachers, nurses, police, and other employees who paid out of every paycheck to fund their pensions, even as the state shorted its share,” the statement said. “On top of that, it is blatantly unconstitutional and thus saves nothing.”
State Rep. Tom Morrison, R-Palatine, said public employee unions are making a lot of noise, but said the state needs to listen to taxpayers.
“You may not be hearing from them because they are so busy trying to keep their heads above water. They’re so busy trying to provide for their families, keep a roof above their heads,” Morrsion said on the House floor. “The public sector unions have been very outspoken, very organized fighting to maintain a system that we all know is unsustainable.”
Morrison wants to build on pension reform an end Illinois’ defined benefit plans all together.
But it will be the Senate that decides what pension reform will look like in Illinois.
Rickeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President Cullerton, said Senators will be given both the union-authored plan and Madigan’s reform next week.
“We will see where the appetite is,” Phelon added.
Phelon is quick to say the Senate has not cut a deal or reached an agreement with the unions. She insists the Senate President is just trying another strategy on pension reform.
“President Cullerton has decided he wants to provide labor with a chance to be part of a legislative solution to pension reform,” Phelon said after Thursday’s House vote.
The Senate is due back at the statehouse Monday, Phelon did not guess as to when the upper chamber may vote on a pension plan.
You can contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog and follow him on Twitter @ILWatchdog.