SPRINGFIELD, Ill. May 30 The Illinois Senate on
Thursday overwhelmingly defeated a sweeping reform of the
state's sinking public pension system, leaving scant time for
maneuvering with the Democrat-controlled legislature set to
adjourn late on Friday.
Senators voted 16-42 against the measure, which was approved
by the House of Representatives this month. The bill was
championed by House Speaker Michael Madigan as the best way to
curb Illinois' nearly $100 billion unfunded pension liability.
Immediately after the vote, legislative supporters of the
bill huddled in the state House chamber. One of them, State
Senator Daniel Biss, said the push for pension reform was not
yet ended, even after the Senate failed to concur with the House
version of the bill.
"Basically, we have three options," he said. "We can try
again for concurrence, and we could try 56 times and see it fail
and then it could pass the 57th. We could come up with something
completely new. Or we could go home empty handed, which
obviously we do not want to do."
A majority of Senate Republicans voted for the bill, which
leader Christine Radogno, said is "the only bill that will save
the pension systems."
Actuarial analyses of the measure done for three of the four
affected pension funds indicated it would cut Illinois' unfunded
liability by $21 billion and its fiscal 2015 pension payment by
nearly $2 billion.
Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn, who has spoken on behalf of
the measure but has not been seen lobbying for it in the state
Capitol, said the Senate vote was a setback. "The people of
Illinois were let down tonight," Quinn said in a statement.
"Failure to send me a comprehensive pension reform bill hurts
our economy and costs Illinois taxpayers $17 million a day."
The measure calls for unilateral changes to retirement
benefits for current and retired state employees, legislators,
public school teachers outside of Chicago Public Schools, and
state university and community college workers to reap maximum
UNIONS LAUD VOTE
Public labor unions have condemned the measure as violating
a provision in the state constitution that prohibits diminishing
pension benefits. Backers of the bill have countered that the
legislature's duty to protect the state's financial health
trumps any specific prohibition in the constitution.
A coalition of public-sector unions calling itself We Are
One Illinois issued a statement lauding the vote. "Today's 'no'
vote was especially forceful and bipartisan. We thank state
senators who stood firmly against SB 1," the statement said.
The Senate has previously passed a union-supported bill with
more modest cost savings. The measure, backed by Senate
President John Cullerton, generally allows workers to retain
access to state-sponsored healthcare in retirement if they opt
for pension concessions.
Cullerton, who has contended the bill passed by his chamber
is the only constitutional method of pension reform, still voted
in favor of the Madigan-backed bill. During the Senate debate,
Cullerton described the bill in detail without directly
criticizing it, but pointedly noted it "unilaterally scales back
cost of living increases." He said the measure would require
workers to chip in more of their own paychecks and limited the
size of the salary that would count toward a pension.
Cullerton's spokeswoman said Senate Democrats will continue
to discuss pension measures, adding that three smaller pension
bills approved by the House in March still were pending in the
The House earlier on Thursday passed a bill that would shift
the cost of pensions paid by the state for higher education
workers onto public universities and community colleges. The
measure, which now heads to the Senate after the 60-55 vote,
raised concerns among Republican lawmakers that it could lead to
tuition or property tax hikes.
Republicans also questioned whether the cost-shift bill
would end up being the only pension reform measure to be passed
during the session.