Pension session ends with a whimper
Gov. Pat Quinn's one-day special session on pension reform fizzled Friday, to the surprise of few Springfield watchers.
Lawmakers adjourned without moving any reform forward, not even a plan to reform their own pension system along similar lines of what they want to impose on other state employees.
The House passed an amendment to a Senate pension bill that would make lawmakers in the General Assembly Retirement System have to choose between getting their automatic 3 percent raises each year or state-subsidized health insurance. But while the amendment passed on a 54-53 vote, it was short of the 60 needed to send the bill back to the Senate for concurrence.
Unless Quinn again calls the legislature back into session, it is not scheduled to convene again until the fall veto session after the Nov. 6 election.
Lawmakers' pensions make up less than 1 percent of the state's whopping $83 billion unfunded pension liability for the five state-run pension systems that include teachers, university professors, judges and state employees. Experts warn that liability may in fact be far greater because of what they call unrealistic rates of return on the state's pension investments.
Legislators called the attempt at altering their own pensions a step in the right direction to show other employees in the pension system that lawmakers are willing to make the sacrifice they are asking of them.
"It's a start. We have to lead by example. We have to be willing to lower ours first before we ask anyone else for sacrifices," Franks said.
Republicans called the measure political cover for the Legislature's failure to address the real problem.
Another provision of Friday's amendment – eliminating pensions entirely for future lawmakers elected after November – was modeled off of past bills by Franks.
Attempts by lawmakers to reform the pension system in the last days of the spring session in May fell short.
One major sticking point is a proposal backed by Quinn and Democratic leaders to shift teacher pensions of downstate and suburban teachers to school districts, meaning the taxpayers. Republicans oppose the plan, alleging it would cause major property tax increases.
Another is the impending election, in which all 177 seats in the General Assembly are up because of post-census redistricting. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, but especially the Democrats who control both houses, are loath to cross the state's powerful public employee unions.
Local lawmakers have said they suspect that Quinn and Democratic leaders will attempt to ram the pension shift through after the election or in the final hours before the new General Assembly is sworn in, as they did when they raised the income tax 67 percent in January 2011.
The' unions oppose pension cuts as both unconstitutional and unfair to workers who have always paid their contributions to the systems, unlike the state, which has shorted their payments for decades.
Quinn earlier this month called a special session for Friday, when the House was scheduled to meet anyway to vote on whether to expel indicted Democratic Rep. Derrick Smith, which they did on a 100-6 vote. But Smith is still on his Chicago district's ballot and could get re-elected.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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