SPRINGFIELD, Illinois Dec 3 Illinois lawmakers
on Tuesday passed a landmark pension reform bill, moving to
address the state's crumbling finances in the face of strong
public labor union opposition to the bill, which among other
measures raises retirement ages.
The bill, passed in a special session, addresses problems
that have built up over decades in the nation's worst-funded
state pension system. Other changes include reducing and
suspending cost-of-living increases and limiting the salaries on
which pensions are based.
Championed by Democratic and Republican legislative leaders,
the bill passed the Senate in a 30-24 vote and the House in a
62-53 vote after lengthy and at times emotional debate. It now
heads to Governor Pat Quinn, who supports it.
"This bill will ensure retirement security for those who
have faithfully contributed to the pension systems, end the
squeeze on critical education and healthcare services, and
support economic growth," the Democratic governor said in a
With the state's finances buckling under a $100 billion
unfunded pension liability, Democratic House Speaker Michael
Madigan and others said the bill would save the state about $160
billion over 30 years and immediately reduce the unfunded
liability by at least 20 percent.
Labor unions called on Quinn to veto the "unfair,
unconstitutional bill. If he doesn't, our union coalition will
have no choice but to seek to uphold the Illinois Constitution
and protect workers' life savings through legal action," the
union group We Are One Illinois said in a statement.
The measure will affect nearly half a million current and
retired public sector union workers, according to a union
spokesman. Unions argue the law violates a state constitutional
prohibition against diminishing pension benefits.
Senate President John Cullerton, a Democrat, said he
welcomes any court challenges to the constitutionality of the
reform measures in the bill.
The affirmative vote came after a failed effort in the
legislature's spring session, a summer of wrangling by a special
legislative committee, and weeks of closed-door talks among the
leaders. It also followed years of discussion and study,
previous reform measures that provided limited improvements or
failed to pass, and numerous downgrades of the state's credit
Some lawmakers during the floor debates worried that
Illinois could be in for another round of credit downgrades
should the bill fail. Its passage could brighten the prospects
for a $350 million bond sale Illinois has planned for next week.