Frustrated Illinois lawmakers pitch pension fix

State Rep. Nekritz says Illinois could be headed into 'fiscal oblivion.'

December 5, 2012

Tony Arnold

A group of Illinois legislators is introducing a new way to start fixing the state’s massively under-funded pension system.

For the better part of 2012, Illinois politicians have been talking about the state’s now $96 billion unfunded pension liabilities in drastic terms. It was no different at a Wednesday morning news conference.

“Without some changes, Illinois will be sent into fiscal oblivion,” Democratic State Rep. Elaine Nekritz said. Nekritz chairs the Personnel and Pensions Committee in the House.

Nekritz is proposing a new measure taking bits and pieces of other proposals that have already been talked about including the controversial shifting of pension costs from the state to local school districts to pay teachers’ retirements, something many Republicans oppose because they say it will cause local property taxes to go up.

“There will be stakeholders that say that it doesn’t go far enough. There will be stakeholders that say it’s unconstitutional, it goes too far, in which case I would agree with Goldilocks that maybe this is the one that’s just about right,” Nekritz said.

Republican State Rep. David Harris from Chicago’s Northwest suburbs joined them in support of the plan.

“I’m reflecting my district. I’m not reflecting my leadership in any way here,” Harris said.

Harris is breaking from Republican leadership in supporting the cost shift proposal. Harris said schools in his district can afford to take on those costs.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross said he met with the governor’s office a few times during the veto session to talk pensions, but expects the debate to continue until lawmakers return in January.

Legislators also have to consider whether an agreed-upon solution would survive a legal challenge from labor groups. Lawmakers could address the matter as early as January.