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updated: 12/3/2013 9:24 AM

Big pension vote could be Tuesday, but big debate likely first

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  • Video: Mussman Hears Concerns

  • Rose Mactel, a teacher at Armstrong Elementary School in Schaumburg, pickets with protesters against pension reform Monday outside the office of State Representative Fred Crespo at 1410 W. Schaumburg Road in Streamwood.

       Rose Mactel, a teacher at Armstrong Elementary School in Schaumburg, pickets with protesters against pension reform Monday outside the office of State Representative Fred Crespo at 1410 W. Schaumburg Road in Streamwood.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • About 50 teachers and other state employees demonstrated and met with state Rep. Michelle Mussmann, in foreground at right, outside her Schaumburg office Monday to oppose cuts to pension benefits.

       About 50 teachers and other state employees demonstrated and met with state Rep. Michelle Mussmann, in foreground at right, outside her Schaumburg office Monday to oppose cuts to pension benefits.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • About 40 teachers and retirees protested against proposed state employee pension cuts outside the office of state Sen. Daniel Biss in Skokie.

       About 40 teachers and retirees protested against proposed state employee pension cuts outside the office of state Sen. Daniel Biss in Skokie.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • About 50 teachers and other state employees demonstrated and met with state Rep. Michelle Mussmann outside her Schaumburg office Monday to oppose cuts to pension benefits.

       About 50 teachers and other state employees demonstrated and met with state Rep. Michelle Mussmann outside her Schaumburg office Monday to oppose cuts to pension benefits.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • About 40 teachers and retirees protested against proposed state employee pension cuts outside the office of state Sen. Daniel Biss in Skokie.

       About 40 teachers and retirees protested against proposed state employee pension cuts outside the office of state Sen. Daniel Biss in Skokie.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Ed Sullivan

      Ed Sullivan

  • Julie Morrison

      Julie Morrison

  • Pension proposal

    Graphic: Pension proposal

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- Tuesday could be high noon for the highest-profile debate over Illinois' disastrous finances as lawmakers prepare for a possible vote on a plan to cut public workers' pension benefits.

But more than two duelers are involved as supporters and opponents can be found in both parties both inside the Capitol and out.

Democratic and Republican leaders in the state House and Senate support the plan and are pushing their rank-and-file members to do the same in spite of fierce opposition from employee unions.

Big business groups back the plan, too. But a candidate for governor many business leaders support has come out against it, saying it wouldn't save enough money.

In the waning hours leading to Tuesday's potential vote, teachers, business interests and top politicians of both parties were pulling lawmakers in different directions in an intense lobbying effort. The outcome was far from clear.

State Sen. Julie Morrison, a Deerfield Democrat and part of a suburban contingent thought critical to the newest pension proposal's success, headed to the Capitol Monday to talk to her staff and hear early-morning debate Tuesday because she isn't yet sure how to vote.

"I want more than just the fact sheets," Morrison said. "I haven't made my mind up yet."

Senate suburban Democrats are seen as critical to the final deal because they've largely voted as a group and have voiced concerns about cutting benefits for current retirees.

The legislation would cut retirees' yearly benefit increases, raise the retirement age and lower how much workers have to pay toward their own retirement, among other things. The proposal is said to save $160 billion over 30 years.

On Monday, teachers demonstrated outside the offices of suburban lawmakers Monday to say cutting their benefits because of the state's financial problems is unfair.

Dozens demonstrated outside Democratic state Rep. Michelle Mussman's Schaumburg office Thursday afternoon, some wearing stickers reading "pension rescue squad." Retired former Schaumburg High School football coach Tom Cerasani told Mussman: "You need to stand up to (House Speaker Michael) Madigan," a top Chicago Democrat who backs the proposal.

"They are an impassioned group," Mussman said. "They are worried about their economic future, and having that future in the hands of someone else is a hard place to be."

Some top Republicans are opposing the idea for a different reason -- because it doesn't cut enough. U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, a Highland Park Republican, stepped into the debate to say the legislation relies on "accounting gimmicks" and is being considered too hastily.

"Republicans against pension reform?" state Rep. Ed Sullivan, a Mundelein Republican, posted on Twitter. "Did I wake up in an alternate universe?"

The support of Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, as well as Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, means the legislation to be considered comes with substantially more political heft than previous ideas.

The pension debate has been a top focus in trying to fix Illinois' financial problems because the state has to pay more toward workers' retirements every year, and that's money taken away from other areas like schools, prisons and services for the poor and disabled.

A majority of a panel of 10 lawmakers tapped to find a solution agreed Monday to send the plan to the full House and Senate for final debate.

Tuesday's vote comes a day after the deadline for candidates to file to run for state office in the March 18 primary, timing that could underscore the importance of the pension vote in the 2014 elections.

The four major Republican candidates for governor are split over the issue, with businessman Bruce Rauner of Winnetka vocally opposing it because the benefit cuts aren't deep enough. Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford of Chenoa is against it because he argues it violates the Illinois Constitution.

State Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington says he'll vote for it and was part of the panel of lawmakers who worked on finding a compromise all summer. State Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale has called for more hearings, saying the plan is too complex to digest so soon.

• Daily Herald Staff Photographer Patrick Kunzer and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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