by Korey Clark
After years of neglect and stalemate, Illinois lawmakers approved a plan last week to address the largest public pension shortfall in the nation. The plan (SB 1), passed by a vote of 62 to 53 in the House and 30 to 24 in the Senate, calls for, among other things, skipping cost-of-living increases for some retirees, raising the retirement age by up to five years for workers under the age of 46 and creating a 401(k)-style plan that workers could opt into instead of staying in the state pension plan. But the plan would also erase the state's $100 billion pension shortfall by 2044. Gov. Pat Quinn (D), who has been pushing for an overhaul of the pension system for years, declared victory. "The people have won," he said. "We have all won." But there wasn't much cheering or celebration among some lawmakers, even those who supported the legislation. "I don't take any joy in this action today," said Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D). "But it is the responsible thing to provide for a pension system that gives workers retirement security without bankrupting our state." Opponents, meanwhile, had nothing but jeers. "This is no victory for Illinois," said We Are One Illinois, a coalition of labor unions, "but a dark day for its citizens and public servants." Union leaders vowed a legal challenge, contending that by lowering pension benefits the plan violates the state Constitution. Senate President John Cullerton (D), who proposed an alternate plan that was supported by the unions but stymied by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D), seemed inclined to agree with that assessment but also willing to take a wait-and-see approach. "I think the bill has serious constitutional problems, I've made that clear from the start, but now it's in front of the court and they can decide," he said. (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, NEW YORK TIMES, QUAD-CITY TIMES, STATE NET)
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