Support builds for shifting costs to schools in new pension plan
SPRINGFIELD — A new pension cost-cutting proposal to be unveiled Wednesday includes tentative backing from two suburban Republicans for the idea of having local school districts pay more for teachers' retirement benefits.
The new plan from state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, would require local school districts to begin picking up the state's share of teacher pension costs, an idea suburban Republicans in particular have loudly opposed as schools have said the change could cost millions of dollars.
But state Reps. David Harris of Arlington Heights and Chris Nybo of Elmhurst plan to show support for Nekritz's plan, at least initially.
Nybo said that while the idea of passing some of the state's financial problems on to local schools still makes him uneasy, rising pension costs for the state means it has less money to send to schools.
"Schools are going to be hit either way," Nybo said.
Nekritz's plan would phase-in the new costs to districts a little differently than in previous proposals, perhaps making it easier for school leaders to plan for the change.
Harris said his Republican colleagues like some other aspects of Nekritz's plan, which unlike some previous proposals would ask teachers and state workers to pay more of their own salaries toward retirement.
And, Harris said, what's proposed Wednesday is going to be subject to debate in the coming weeks.
"This is not the final package," he said.
Nekritz wasn't available to talk about the plan the day before her announcement. On Monday, she said most of the pension negotiations in recent weeks had been among rank-and-file lawmakers, not Democratic legislative leaders or Gov. Pat Quinn.
And it's unclear whether union leaders would soften their opposition to pension proposals. They argue that teachers and workers have paid faithfully into pension funds for decades and their benefits shouldn't be cut because politicians have let the state's finances worsen.
Plus, many expect a union lawsuit to challenge any changes to workers' retirement plans.
Lawmakers have until Jan. 9 before a new General Assembly is sworn in and all legislation starts over. It's unclear whether a complex issue like this can be resolved by then. The legislature adjourns this week and does not return until Jan. 3.
Nearly three dozen lame-duck lawmakers are leaving the House and Senate, and because they will not face another election, some think they might be more likely to support a controversial measure like cutting retirement benefits. But that's no guarantee.
Nybo is one of the outgoing House members and said he doesn't want to see the issue put off.
"I think that would be a travesty," he said. "I have until Jan. 8 to make an impact on this issue."
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