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updated: 12/5/2012 11:33 AM

Will new state pension plan find support?

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  • Democratic state Reps. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook, left, and Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago confer at the Illinois Capitol this summer as lawmakers considered how to tackle the state's rising pension costs.

      Democratic state Reps. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook, left, and Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago confer at the Illinois Capitol this summer as lawmakers considered how to tackle the state's rising pension costs.
    Associated Press

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- State Rep. Elaine Nekritz Wednesday introduced a new plan to cut the state's escalating pension costs as a starting point for further negotiations and showed concern for the ticking clock winding down on lawmakers' current terms.

The plan would cut teachers' retirement benefits and move future pension costs to local schools and was presented as a bipartisan step on an issue plagued by gridlock.

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"It will continue to be negotiated and refined over the next month," said Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat.

However, as GOP lawmakers like state Reps. Chris Nybo of Elmhurst and David Harris of Arlington Heights signed on, one of the party's top leaders on the issue has not.

State Rep. Darlene Senger, a Naperville Republican, said she was informed of the plan last week and wants to see some hard data about how much money Nekritz' plan would save the state.

"It was not a bipartisan effort in any way, shape or form," Senger said outside the news conference where the proposal was announced.

The list of supporters doesn't include any legislative leaders, including top Democrats that control the Capitol and House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego, who has been steadfast in his opposition to having local districts pay more for teachers' pensions.

Wednesday's proposal would ask teachers and state workers to eventually pay 2 percent more of their own salaries into retirement funds. The retirement age would be raised a different amount for different workers, depending on how old they are.

The annual increase in benefits retirees get -- a huge part of the state's escalating costs -- would be limited as well.

A provision unions have asked for is included. It would let them sue the state if lawmakers don't pay their fair share into the pension funds every year.

What the new proposal doesn't do is make workers choose between decreased retirement benefits and discounted state-provided health care, which is part of other proposals.

The Illinois Constitution includes a restriction on diminishing pension benefits, so offering workers a choice was seen by some supporters as a way around that problem.

Nekritz said there's no way to know how the Illinois Supreme Court would eventually rule. But she believes the various provisions of her plan would hold up.

Harris said he and other Republicans don't love every aspect of the new proposal. Still, as state pension costs continue to cut into how much money Illinois has to send to schools, care for the disabled and fix roads, he said Wednesday's plan helped pushed forward what was a stagnant negotiation on the issue.

"We can disagree on how we got here," Harris said. "But we have to solve it.

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