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State Government

Ill. House: Senate pension plan saves less money

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois House members said Tuesday that Senate President John Cullerton’s pension reform proposal saves less than 60 percent of what he has predicted.

Reps. Elaine Nekritz and Darlene Senger released numbers from an actuarial study of the Cullerton plan that showed it would reduce the public employee pension system debt, now at $97 billion, by less than $6 billion. Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, says his plan would reduce that obligation by $10 billion.

Lawmakers continue to wrestle with the monstrous unfunded liability; there are just 10 days left in the scheduled session of the General Assembly.

Nekritz and Senger met with reporters to lay out the calculations on the Cullerton bill, which was done by pension system actuaries. But they noted the decrease could vary depending on factors used to compute it – House Democrats say $5.2 billion, the GOP says $5.7 billion.

Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, and Senger, a Republican from Naperville, are behind a House-approved plan they say would reduce the liability by about $28 billion. It awaits Senate action while Cullerton’s bill is in the House.

“The choice between the two proposals has always been about how does the math add up?” Nekritz said. “ ... With limited resources, there are choices that we have to make about where those resources are going to go.”

Cullerton concedes his proposal saves less money but offers a choice between benefits participants would have to sacrifice, something he says would help it survive a constitutional court challenge.

Spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said Cullerton doesn’t dispute the House members’ “preliminary numbers.”

“We are awaiting additional information from the pension systems,” she added.

The unfunded liability is what is owed in the long-term, under current law, to all state employees and retirees.

Decades of shorting the pension systems by state legislators and governors have created the debt. Trying to catch up with it will cost about $6 billion next year, nearly one-fifth of the total general revenue Illinois expects to take in.

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