SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois Senate voted Thursday to send a union-supported pension reform bill to the House, leaving lawmakers with two competing proposals for dealing with the nation’s worst state pension crisis just weeks before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn.
The Senate voted 40-16 Thursday to advance a measure sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton. The Chicago Democrat negotiated the plan with some of the state’s largest public-employee unions. Cullerton says it’s the only option for addressing the nearly $100 billion crisis that is constitutional, and the unions have agreed not to file a lawsuit if the measure is signed into law.
But House Speaker Michael Madigan prefers a plan he sponsored and the House approved last week and that he says could save three times more money than Cullerton’s proposal. Gov. Pat Quinn backs Madigan’s measure, as do Senate Republicans. But rather than take up Madigan’s proposal in the Senate, Democrats there opted to go with Cullerton’s union-friendly plan.
The question now is whether one leader will succumb to the other’s approach or if another deal can be reached on a problem that lawmakers have failed to solve for years, even as states across the country took action on their own pension problems.
Madigan predicted after Thursday’s vote that his bill — which unilaterally cuts retirement benefits — will ultimately be enacted. He said he hasn’t decided whether he would call Cullerton’s bill in his chamber.
“I think the bill passed by the House is a good solid bill, well-thought out, it has a broad base of support and it ought to be passed by the Senate,” the Chicago Democrat said. “And I think they will pass it.”
Quinn, who has said fixing the problem is his top priority, told reporters Thursday Madigan’s plan should get a vote in the Senate before the end of the month.
“I think it’s important for them, members of the Senate, (to) take a look at everything,” the Chicago Democrat said. “But ultimately it’s important for (Madigan’s proposal) to get a vote.”
But Ron Holmes, a spokesman for Cullerton, said it didn’t appear Madigan’s proposal had enough votes to pass the Senate. He noted four Republicans voted with Democrats on the union-supported bill Thursday, and that a bill similar to Madigan’s failed to get the 30 votes needed for approval when it was before the chamber earlier this year.
“If there’s some sort of shift that says we can get to 30 votes (on Madigan’s bill), the Senate president will take that into account,” Holmes said.
Cullerton’s plan would give workers and retirees a choice in retirement benefits. Current workers would choose among three different benefit packages, while retirees would choose between two. For example, workers who want to receive 3 percent cost-of-living increases compounded annually wouldn’t get health insurance. If they want health insurance in retirement, they would receive smaller cost-of-living adjustments.
Cullerton says the legislation would save Illinois about $46 billion over the next 30 years. In 2015, the state’s annual pension payment would be about $850 million less than is currently scheduled.