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Local officials react after massive pension bill approved

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 11:50 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 9:29 a.m. CDT

HINSDALE – 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.

One Republican voting no was candidate for governor Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, who cited lingering 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,” Dillard said in a news release. “It just doesn't meet constitutional standards for consideration that I believe it must have in order to hold up in court.”

Labor unions have said they will challenge the bill's constitutionality.

“The legislation isn't yet final and we understand there's going to be lawsuits in that regard, so we really have to see what the end result is before we can determine how it's going to be affecting the district,” said Kristine Liptrot, spokesperson for Hinsdale Township High School District 86.

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 five different pension funds, including state workers and most of the public school teachers in Illinois outside of Chicago.

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.

District 181 school board member Gary Clarin said he was able to talk with a few fellow board members about the legislative decision, but couldn't comment until all the details have been finalized and the district had a chance to review the legislation.

“We hope it works for the better,” Clarin said.

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.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, Burr Ridge, said he was pleased with the pension reform passing through the General Assembly in order to save retirements and protect Illinois taxpayers.

“This bi-partisan proposal will go a long ways towards putting our state back on solid financial footing, but it does not mean our work is done,” Durkin said in a news release. “We must continue to demonstrate fiscal discipline over the next several years to control spending, and pay down our bills if we ever hope to allow the ‘temporary’ tax to expire and to bring jobs back to Illinois.”

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