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updated: 5/11/2015 3:06 PM

Will next pension fight lead to higher property tax bills?

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  • Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, shown in 2012 with state Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Des Plaines, "remains interested" in a proposal to cut the state's pension costs by shifting some expenses onto local school districts.

    Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, shown in 2012 with state Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Des Plaines, "remains interested" in a proposal to cut the state's pension costs by shifting some expenses onto local school districts.
    Associated Press

 
 

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan "remains interested" in making local school districts pay more toward teachers' pensions following last week's historic Illinois Supreme Court ruling striking down Illinois' pension-cutting law, a spokesman said.

State Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, has already prepared for a fight over the issue and has won the support of 50 lawmakers, about 10 short of the number needed to kill the plan in the House.

"If these efforts are successful, we would see a massive increase in property taxes and local education cuts," McSweeney said in a statement. "We cannot afford an additional increase in property taxes."

The so-called cost shift proposal never caught on with lawmakers in previous years. It would have school districts pay more toward teachers' future retirement costs, a payment now made by the state.

Madigan, a Democrat, has been a vocal supporter over the years, arguing the move would save the state millions of dollars per year.

He argues Chicago schools already pay the employers' share of teachers' pensions, while the state covers that for suburban and downstate teachers.

"I'm not sure whether the court decision helps or hurts that cause," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.

Suburban lawmakers have largely opposed the idea, saying the state shouldn't push its financial problems off on local schools. Chicago gets other school funding benefits that make a comparison on pension costs only part of the picture, they say.

Rauner says he's keeping an open mind in general but isn't a fan of what he's seen so far.

"The governor has always been open to a discussion regarding proposals that reform our pension systems and empower local voters, but he has yet to see a proposal that doesn't excessively burden local homeowners," spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said.

The court didn't address a cost shift in its decision last week because such a policy wasn't included in the state's pension law. But it's not usually seen as legally in question because the move wouldn't reduce benefits, only change who pays.

The court's decision puts the focus on what lawmakers might try next, including a potential constitutional amendment pushed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. But with 20 days left until their deadline to craft a state budget, pension talks might take a back seat for now.

"We don't know how the governor plans to react," Brown said.

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