Illinois House passes pared down pension plan

March 21, 2013

The Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.  — The Illinois House approved a pension reform plan on Thursday aimed at reducing and delaying cost-of-living increases for retirees, its third such stripped-down proposal geared toward chipping away at solving the state's nearly $100 billion pension problem.

The bill comes out of a laborious process where lawmakers are addressing the pension problem piece by piece instead of a total overhaul at once. Thursday's bill proposes no cost-of-living increases can be taken until retirees reach 67 or five years after retirement and applies COLAs only to the first $25,000 of an annual pension.

House members voted 66-50 in favor of the measure, presented by Democratic state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, who has been at the heart of pension talks.

Illinois has the nation's worst pension problem and ever-growing pension debt because for years lawmakers either skipped or shorted payments.

Lawmakers have been taking overlapping approaches in trying to solve the problem and numerous overhaul plans are pending. The piecemeal approach has come under scrutiny by several lawmakers who've been frustrated and called it directionless.

But House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is the sponsor of the bill, defended it on Thursday saying the House had approved three pieces that are significant reforms.

"We all recognize the enormity of this problem," he told lawmakers before the vote. "The significance of the problem is not the issue. The issue is how do we react to the problem, how do we move legislation that will solve the problem, and do it in such a way that we have a reasonable chance of approval in the Illinois court system."

Last week the House approved two others. The first caps the salary that pension benefits are based on at the limit set for Social Security, currently $113,000 a year. The other amendment pushes back the retirement age by different increments based on age group. For example, younger employees will see a later retirement age.

Some critics have called the bill unconstitutional.