Local politicians anticipate vote on pension plan soon

Details yet to be ironed out

Area lawmakers are anxiously awaiting the details on a potential plan to address the state’s $100 billion pension crisis still being ironed out by Illinois’ four legislative leaders.

Both state Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, and state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, are anticipating a vote on a pension deal when they return to Springfield next week.

But rank-and-file members in the legislature still don’t know the specifics of a pension reform package, as the state’s legislative leaders continue to hammer out the details in meetings this week.

“The likelihood of a vote is very great,” Althoff said. “There is a substantial will to pass a pension reform bill. The issue remains what it is going to look like. The specific details still need to be worked out.”

The chief of staff for House Speaker Michael Madigan has told representatives to be at the Capitol on Tuesday. Senate President John Cullerton also has told senators to be prepared to meet next week, though he has not yet called his members back – an indication that he has not yet signed off on a pension deal.

Illinois has the worst funded public pension system of any state, largely because lawmakers either skipped or shorted payments. Pension reform has been a priority with the Legislature and Gov. Pat Quinn for nearly two years, but the effort so far has failed to pass both chambers.

Many of the broad concepts developed by a bipartisan pension panel earlier this year will be featured in a forthcoming plan, said Althoff, who also has been in contact recently with Senate GOP leader Christine Radogno about the reform.

“But the specifics on how that is going to play with the whole package is in a state of development,” she said.

Madigan, Cullerton, Radogno and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin talked on a conference call last week about a proposal that could save Illinois roughly $150 billion over the next three decades.

The plan comes from guidelines developed by the bipartisan panel. That proposal would reduce employee contributions and replace retirees’ 3 percent annual compounded cost-of-living increase with one that’s half the inflation rate, among other things.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker continued discussions with leaders over the weekend.

“He indicated there was continued progress,” Brown said in an email. He declined to elaborate. The four legislative leaders also are expected to meet Wednesday about a potential plan.

Althoff has been told to expect a pension vote on Tuesday. Senators are also being told to keep Wednesday open, as the situation remains “in flux,” Althoff said.

House committee meetings are planned for Monday with a pension vote possible on Tuesday, McSweeney said.

But McSweeney is concerned that regular members in the legislature won’t have enough time to question and review a potential pension deal if one is presented next week.

“There is no higher priority than adopting pension reform, but I want to know what’s in the bill,” McSweeney said.

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