Vote on state pension cuts could come in August
SPRINGFIELD -- A coalition of labor leaders said Wednesday that House Speaker Michael Madigan is considering asking for a vote on pension cuts for lawmakers and state workers -- but not teachers -- when lawmakers return to Springfield for one day next month.
Legislation that has already been approved by the Illinois Senate would cut back annual pension benefit increases if workers wanted to keep state-subsidized health care.
Teachers weren't included in the package because a deal couldn't be reached over shifting future pension costs of teachers from the state to local schools -- an idea Madigan has backed.
Lawmakers are planning to head to Springfield Aug. 17 to debate the possible expulsion of state Rep. Derrick Smith, a Chicago Democrat indicted on bribery charges. But they could do pension work, too, if they wanted to.
Many lawmakers believe the state must address its $83 billion pension debt in order to get the state's finances on track.
"This bill would gut the provision allowing retirees on fixed incomes to keep up with rising costs," reads a statement Wednesday from the We Are One Coalition of labor unions, which includes teachers' groups. "It would burden retirees with the overwhelming share of the state's pension debt, punishing middle-class public servants for the sins of politicians."
Whether the legislation will actually be called for a vote next month remains in question, and whether it has enough support for approval is a bigger question.
"We have no certain knowledge of (Madigan's) intent," the union statement said. "We reiterated to him today our willingness to work with the legislative leaders to develop a fair pension solution."
Gov. Pat Quinn's office suggested Wednesday, though, that the governor wants a pension reform proposal that includes teachers.
"That bill is part of what needs to be done -- but not all of it," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said. "The governor would like to see all the necessary steps taken to eliminate the unfunded pension liability and restore fiscal stability to Illinois," she said.
Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, has called for the House to approve the plan, saying lawmakers should approve at least some pension changes and a deal can be reached on teachers later.
And state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat, has written letters to newspapers asking Madigan for the same thing.
"In Illinois, our chickens have come home to roost," the letter reads. "Springfield can no longer postpone the tough decision that it has been avoiding for years. The time for pension funding reform is now."
Madigan's willingness to call the plan for a vote doesn't guarantee success. At the end of lawmakers' spring session in May, Madigan allowed House Republican Tom Cross' pension proposal to be debated. But it didn't win approval.