Lawmakers back, but pensions probably not on the table this week
SPRINGFIELD -- In spite of all the urgent pushing from some state officials to cut teachers' and state workers' retirement benefits, lawmakers aren't likely to vote on the issue this week when they return to the Capitol.
But talks could continue behind the scenes to try to set up a showdown on the issue in early January.
In the meantime, lawmakers returning to Springfield today for their last week before holiday break could debate whether to allow drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants or even whether to legalize medical marijuana. Lawmakers have a strategic reason for waiting on pensions. If they approved pension changes now by a simple majority vote, state law says the new law couldn't take effect until next summer.
But if they wait until early January, a simple majority approval would allow them to create a law effective immediately. So sooner would be later, in this case.
Waiting until January is no guarantee pension changes will be approved, though.
Unions continue to contest plans to cut pensions, pointing out it's not employees' faults that the state is in a tough budget spot. Plus, Republicans and Democrats can't agree on whether suburban school districts should have to pay more for teachers' pension costs -- possibly costing each district millions of dollars in the future.
State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, said she doesn't know to what extent Gov. Pat Quinn and top legislative leaders have been negotiating in recent weeks. But she says she's been trying to talk to individual members of the House and Senate about the need to address the controversial issue of pensions.
"We're still working on drumming up support," she said.
Unlike the ubiquitous debate over the federal fiscal cliff, there's no strict deadline for changing retirement benefits. But the state's pension costs continue to rise over time, leaving less money available to pay for schools, care for the disabled and other costs.
If lawmakers don't act on pensions before newly elected lawmakers are sworn in Jan. 9, the issue will simply roll over for the next General Assembly to debate. Some cite pressure from Wall Street bond agencies as a reason for lawmakers to act quickly, lest they face another credit rating downgrade.
Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski told the Daily Herald Editorial Board Monday that a delegation of suburban mayors trying to lobby lawmakers in Springfield last week for pension changes on the local level found little support.
State officials could be looking to solve their own pension problems first before considering mayors' rising police and firefighter retirement costs.
"It was worthless," Smolinski said.