State Senate could vote on pension plan Thursday

SPRINGFIELD — A union-backed plan to curb the state's escalating retirement costs passed its first test Wednesday, setting up a vote on the Illinois Senate floor as early as Thursday.

The Senate committee's approval of the proposal was widely expected. The pension plan is backed by Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago, and the committee's Democratic members are largely Cullerton allies.

The plan offers teachers and state workers three options to either reduce their future pension benefits or make other sacrifices, such as declining state-subsidized health care in retirement.

Union leaders' backing of the proposal is seen as a big boon for its prospects and an effort to “get off the topic of pensions once and for all,” said Illinois Education Association President Cinda Klickna.

But the opposition of retired teachers who would have to make the same choices about benefit cuts as working people could spell trouble.

Illinois Retired Teachers Association Vice President Bob Pinkerton said the choice Cullerton's plan offers amounts to: “Jump off the cliff or I'll shoot you.”

It was approved by a 10-5 vote. From the suburbs, Democratic state Sens. Terry Link of Waukegan and Don Harmon of Oak Park voted for the plan. State Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, voted “no,” as did Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont.

The Illinois House just last week approved a very different pension plan backed by powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan, setting up potential indefinite gridlock on the issue. Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn for the summer May 31.

Like the House-approved bill, Cullerton's plan would affect teachers, state workers, university and community college employees and lawmakers. Judges are excluded.

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