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Senate passes Cullerton's pension plan on 2nd try

Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 3:27 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 4:11 p.m. CDT
Caption
(AP file photo)
Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, left, and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, right, talk with each other before Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn delivers his State of the Budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly in the House chambers at the Illinois State Capitol Wednesday, March 6, 2013, in Springfield Ill.

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Senate rejected a comprehensive pension overhaul Wednesday, but narrowly approved a scaled-back plan targeting teachers.

The bill addressing the Teachers' Retirement System, sponsored by Senate President John Cullterton, was estimated to save up to $40 billion over the next three decades. It offers employees a choice on whether they want retirement health care or reduced annual cost-of-living increases, among other things.

The bill failed by one vote on a first attempt, but Cullerton quickly used a parliamentary procedure to be able to recall the matter, which he did minutes later. It was approved 30-22.

"It's not often you can push a green button and save $18-to-$40 billion dollars over the next 30 years," Cullerton told lawmakers as they headed into a second vote.

Opponents said that Cullerton's plan didn't go far enough in addressing Illinois' worst-in-the-nation pension problem. The state has nearly $100 billion in pension debt because for years it has either shorted or skipped payments altogether.

Lawmakers have been deadlocked in an approach to solving the problem, despite urgent pleas from Gov. Pat Quinn, who had backed Cullerton's bill. Since the spring session began in January, lawmakers have taken a number of approaches, often time with overlapping ideas.

Earlier Wednesday, senators voted down a pension overhaul sponsored by state Sen. Daniel Biss, an Evanston Democrat. His plan, which replicated part of an earlier proposal, would have required public employees to contribute 2 percent more toward retirements and push back the retirement age in increments by age group. The plan also required the state to fully fund its pensions.

Opponents called the plan constitutional, which Biss acknowledged. But Biss said his plan offered a good compromise on other matters.

"The best thing we can do is balance these priorities against each other," he said, later telling lawmakers that their vote wouldn't be easy.

Senators voted down his plan 23-30.

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