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Local officials react after massive pension bill approved

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 2:17 p.m. CST

Illinois lawmakers narrowly approved a bill Tuesday intended to fix the state's pension crisis by providing $160 billion in savings over the next 30 years

The bill, approved by both the Illinois House and Senate, plans to guarantee full funding of the state's pension systems by 2044, according to the Illinois Senate Democrats website.

Opponents of the bill, including labor unions, say the deal punishes workers who paid into the pension system for years, but will now suffer because of the state's failure to make payments and other mismanagement.

Some Republicans said the bill's cuts were not deep enough, while labor unions have said they will challenge the bill's constitutionality

Tom Tully, president of the Glenbard Education Association and a teacher at Glenbard East High School, expressed his displeasure with the vote. The association is the union that represents certified staff in Glenbard Township High School District 87.

"Obviously, we're disappointed with the legislators voting to gut a good portion of our pension and change the rules of the game after 40 years," Tully said Wednesday morning. "We will take steps to see if there are judges who agree – it's (now) a question for the courts to decide."

Richard Heim, president of the District 87 school board, said the decision was unfortunate, but that he was aware that it was likely imminent.

"From a school board perspective, we are solvent and we balance our budget," Heim said. "We are doing fine and meeting goals, but clearly the state isn't. They have to balance the budget and that's their responsibility."

Tim Sexton, Lombard's director of finance and acting village manager, said that the current bill, as it is written, will not have an impact on village employees.

The House voted 62-53 for the plan, sending it to Quinn, who has said he will sign it.

The Senate approved the bill 30-24 earlier Tuesday.

“This landmark legislation is a bipartisan solution that squarely addresses the most difficult fiscal issue Illinois has ever confronted," Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement

State Rep. Deb Conroy, D-Villa Park, an advocate for the bill, said in news release Tuesday that the bill preserves pensions for those who have paid into the system and protects vital state services including education and programs for seniors, veterans and the developmentally disabled.

“Although this one action will not cure the state’s fiscal problems, by working together and across the aisle to pass this bipartisan bill we have taken a step toward getting our state back on track," Conroy said.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, who voted against the bill, cited questions about the constitutionality of the proposal and concerns about the lack of public vetting of the legislation.

"I don’t believe this bill can survive a court challenge," said Dillard, who is running for governor of Illinois in 2014. "It just doesn't meet the constitutional standards for consideration that I believe it must have in order to hold up in court."

Illinois lawmakers failed for years to take action to fix what is considered the worst public pension problem in the nation. The massive underfunded liability has caused credit rating agencies to downgrade Illinois' rating.

The bill affects workers in four of the five different state pension funds – state workers, public university employees, most of the public school teachers in Illinois outside of Chicago and the general assembly. Judge's pensions are not affected by the new law.

The bill raises the retirement age for current workers 45 and younger, on a sliding scale, and also cuts back the 3 percent cost of living increases to only be applied to certain benefits. Workers will contribute 1 percent less to the plan.

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