SPRINGFIELD – State senators moved two somewhat similar pension proposals out of a top committee Wednesday in hopes of generating momentum on a single approach to address Illinois' worst-in-the-nation pension problem.
However, after about three hours of committee debate, several senators said they still had reservations about both plans — ranging from questions of constitutionality to estimated savings — and only gave their tentative yes votes to move the bills out of committee for more debate on the Senate floor.
The cautious approval on both plans illustrates how difficult it's been to gain lawmaker consensus on a solution to Illinois' nearly $100 billion pension problem.
One bill sponsored by state Sen. Daniel Biss, an Evanston Democrat, replicates part of a previous plan and delays cost-of-living increases, pushes back the retirement age for some and calls for more employee contributions. The Senate Executive Committee approved it 11-4. The other, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton, echoes some of the same ideas and offers employees a choice on whether they want retirement health care or reduced annual cost-of-living increases.
However, his plan also contains a second part with a scaled-back approach in case the first is deemed unconstitutional by the courts. The Chicago Democrat defended his idea, saying none of the numerous pension proposals on the table would take effect soon enough.
He said he was offering a backup "rather than delay the possibility" of getting reform.
Some opponents said Cullerton's bill doesn't go far enough. A Wednesday letter from business groups, including the Illinois Manufacturers' Association and Illinois Chamber of Commerce, called the projected savings "insufficient."
The Senate committee's action came hours after Gov. Pat Quinn — who supports the Cullerton bill — and House Speaker Michael Madigan expressed optimism for a pension solution this year.
"There's a continuing level of education among members of the Legislature," Madigan told reporters.
The pension bills are SB1 and SB35.
Illinois General Assembly: http://www.ilga.gov