SPRINGFIELD Ill. Feb 27 Illinois' House Speaker
Michael Madigan lit a fire under the state's tepid public
pension reform efforts on Wednesday, introducing measures that
would mean harsh changes for public sector workers.
After weeks of silence from Madigan on the state's fiscal
crisis, he offered measures that would demand bigger pension
contributions from workers and raise the retirement age. He also
proposed completely eliminating cost-of-living increases for
retirees or tying them to the funding level of the state's
Illinois' pension system is the worst-funded among U.S.
states at just 39 percent. One of Madigan's proposals would halt
annual cost-of-living adjustments until the funding level is at
80 percent, which is considered healthy for retirement funds.
"These bills are the next step in a job that has gone on for
five years now," said Madigan spokesman Steve Brown. "We've
tried to stabilize the pension systems and that's all we're
trying to do. These (bills) are a series of changes and they're
another step in the right direction."
But the biggest union representing state workers immediately
criticized the proposals.
Anders Lindall, a spokesman for American Federation of
State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, said Madigan's
proposals were "unconstitutional and unfair to workers and
A provision of the Illinois Constitution says that pensions
cannot be diminished or impaired, which is a major obstacle to
any pension changes that reduce benefits to retirees.
The speaker's move prompted speculation that he is testing
support for various proposals in an effort to reach a
"I think the speaker is really trying to figure out a path
to solutions on this issue," said Elaine Nekritz, a Democratic
lawmaker who has been a leader in pushing for pension reform.
She and Republican House Leader Tom Cross on Wednesday
unveiled a revised version of their pension reform proposals
that they said include ideas backed by business, labor,
politicians and others.
Unions have said they are prepared to fight pension changes
using the Illinois Constitution's strong protection for
The Illinois House of Representatives will debate pension
reform before the full chamber on Thursday for the first time
since a new legislature was sworn in last month. To date, the
state's fiscal crisis has only been considered on the margins of
the legislature or in committee sessions.