SPRINGFIELD -- As lawmakers appear to be stepping back from two proposals to cut teachers' pension benefits, a plan to have local school districts and community colleges take over the state's share of future retirement costs remains in play.
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan told The Associated Press that a plan to raise teachers' retirement age to 67 is unconstitutional and he won't pursue it.
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In addition, the Illinois Education Association has told its members that while the union would perhaps agree to teachers paying more toward their own retirements, lawmakers might not be interested in that provision, either.
"We have proposed higher contributions from our members, in return for a guarantee that the state will pay its share going forward," reads an email sent to teachers. "Yet we have learned that legislative leaders are preparing to walk away from those discussions, short-circuiting progress toward a compromise that all parties can support."
Instead, lawmakers would focus their money-saving efforts on the cost driving the biggest part of the state's $83 billion budget deficit -- a yearly benefit increase given to retirees.
Other union officials caution that complex pension talks could "change by the minute" as lawmakers sprint toward their May 31 budget deadline.
The plan to shift some of the state's pension costs to local schools is decried both by local officials and most Republicans, who argue their budgets can't absorb the millions of dollars it would cost.
But Democrats say Chicago schools already pay the employer share of teachers' pension costs while the state is on the hook for more than $800 million a year for suburban and downstate schools.
Madigan says he'd want to phase that shift in, so to not saddle districts with their entire new cost at once.
Lawmakers are looking to cut pension costs as the skyrocketing bill has taken away from what the state has to spend in other areas, like for schools and the care for the disabled and elderly.
Both the House and Senate continue to meet today, perhaps planning to debate plans to raise cigarette taxes by $1 per pack to pay for health care spending for the poor and other budget plans.