State Government

Pensions, concealed carry on the list for state legislators

State legislators have one month left in which to tackle legislation before the end of the spring session.

The House and the Senate plan to meet 24 days in May until the session adjourns May 31. Barring special meetings, they will not reconvene until the fall veto session.

Once that deadline comes and goes, legislation passed the rest of this year requires a three-fifths majority for legislation to take effect before June 1, 2014.

The following is a list of issues that state lawmakers face in these final four weeks.

PENSION REFORM: Both the House and Senate have passed legislation aimed at getting a grip on the state’s crushing unfunded pension liability, which stands at about $97 ­­billion or $200 billion, depending on how you count.

The House bill is more robust – it caps the annual 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment for four of the five state-run pension systems and pushes back the eligibility age to receive it. The Senate bill is far weaker, and forces only downstate and suburban teachers to choose between getting the 3 percent COLA or state health insurance upon retirement.

But House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, rewrote the Senate bill to require state workers to pay more for lesser benefits, in exchange for a guarantee that the state contributes the amount required by actuaries to keep the system solvent. It cleared the House Personnel and Pensions Committee on a 9-1 vote Wednesday, and could face a full House vote by the end of the week.

The bill would have to go back to the Senate for a concurrence vote. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has said Madigan’s changes would not survive an inevitable lawsuit by the state’s powerful public-sector unions.

The Illinois Constitution states that public pension benefits cannot be “diminished or impaired.”

While Gov. Pat Quinn has called pension reform the top legislative priority, he has received criticism from lawmakers for taking no initiative toward making it happen.

CONCEALED CARRY: Lawmakers have until June 9 to come up with concealed-carry legislation before a 2012 federal court ruling negates the state’s ban on carrying concealed weapons.

The House has stumbled along on the issue. Factors include regional differences – Chicago lawmakers want tight restrictions while downstate lawmakers do not – and the convoluted, amendment-laden process Madigan chose to help develop a bill.

A restrictive law proposed by Chicago Democrat Kelly Cassidy garnered only 31 votes, while a less restrictive law backed by downstate Democrat Brandon Phelps fell seven votes short of the 71 votes needed because it would override home-rule authority.

The Senate is working on its own version. The original allowed Cook County and Chicago to have more restrictive concealed carry, but a subsequent version imposed those restrictions statewide. Bill sponsor Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, said it is being rewritten.

Illinois is the only remaining state that had a complete ban on concealed carry, but laws vary wildly among the other 49 states.

States such as Alaska and Vermont allow unrestricted concealed carry without permits. Hawaii and several other states have concealed carry in theory, but restrictive rules make it almost impossible to get a permit.

BUDGET: The General Assembly has to develop a spending plan for fiscal 2014 that will almost certainly differ from Quinn’s proposal.

Quinn’s budget contains $500 million more in revenue than the $35 billion that the House projects. The House over the past two fiscal years has rejected Quinn’s estimates for their own. 

Fiscal 2014 for state government starts July 1. The current 2013 budget year will end with an $8 billion deficit, and almost $10 billion in unpaid bills will be carried over.

Quinn called his 2014 budget “the most difficult ever,” and included cuts such as a $400 million cut to public education.

Pension reform goes hand-in-hand with the budget – about 20 percent of General Fund spending in next year’s budget will go to paying the state’s pension obligations. Revenue from the historic 2011 income-tax increase, which was sold as a way to pay down the bill backlog, has been almost entirely swallowed by pension payments.

Illinois now has the lowest credit rating of all 50 states.

GAMBLING: Supporters of expanding gambling in Illinois are working to craft a bill that either Quinn would sign, or both houses would find harmless enough to override a veto.

The Senate is developing a bill that would allow for five more casinos, including one in Chicago, as well as slot machines in airports and horse race tracks.

Quinn vetoed the previous version, arguing that it did not allocate enough money for education and that it contained inadequate protections against corruption and organized crime. It was the second gambling expansion bill in two years that Quinn rejected.

GAY MARRIAGE: A vote could come this month on a bill that would legalize gay marriage in Illinois.

The bill cleared the Senate on Valentine’s Day and is now in the House. But supporters have been scrambling since to shore up the 60 votes needed for passage.

While Quinn has not shown leadership on the pension crisis, he has been meeting with House lawmakers to shore up support for the bill, which he has pledged to sign into law.

Lawmakers in the 2011 lame-duck session approved civil unions for gay and straight couples.

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