Senate endorses limited pension reform; workers protest

Senate endorses limited pension reform; workers protest

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate on Thursday again endorsed a limited fix to the state’s massively under-funded retirement systems, but it remains unclear if any significant pension reform legislation will emerge during the legislature’s lame-duck session.

Just hours before the Senate vote, the Statehouse had been packed by teachers and state workers from throughout Illinois opposing the Senate proposal and other pension reform measures pending before the General Assembly.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said the Senate plan — first approved in May but never taken up in the House — needed two small “technical” clarifications before the House could take it up when members return on Sunday for the final three days of the lame-duck session.

Cullerton told the Senate he is urging House members to pass the Senate proposal, which only makes changes to two of Illinois’ state pension systems: the state employees retirement system and the General Assembly’s own retirement system.

Cullerton said reforming the two systems could serve as a “template” for the eventual reform of state retire-ment systems for public school teachers and university faculty and staff.

But a large group of teachers, professors, state employees and retirees swarmed the Capitol to rally against all the current pension reform proposals.

Thursday’s rally was organized by We Are One Illinois, a coalition of unions representing teachers, university faculty and staff, and state employees, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Em-ployees.

AFSCME spokesman Christopher Hooser said the rally drew about 1,000 people.

With Gov. Pat Quinn pushing for a pension deal by a Jan. 9 deadline, the union coalition has its own three-element pension overhaul:

— Current employees would pay 2 percent more of their annual salary toward their pensions.

— State leaders would have to guarantee that the state would make its required share of pension contributions.

— State leaders should raise revenue by closing corporate tax loopholes.

“That way, it’s a shared sacrifice,” Hooser said.

The proposals being considered by lawmakers are “all about taking it out of the workers’ pockets,” he said, criticizing state leaders who “created this mess.”

According to an analysis distributed by the coalition, the change to the cost-of-living adjustment proposed in one plan before the House “would leave retirees with a monthly check that is 25 percent less” than a retirement payment someone would receive under Social Security’s inflation-indexed system.

The coalition analysis said the under this legislative proposal’s cost-of-living approach, “workers and retirees face a no-win, coercive choice.”

“My wife and I planned carefully for retirement and left a sensible cushion,” said retiree John Kilgore, who taught English literature at Eastern Illinois University from 1978 to 2010. His wife, Dollie, was a nurse at the student health center, and both receive pension benefits through the state’s university retirement system.

Kilgore said any pension reform adjustments to medical insurance or the pension’s COLA provisions “is more than our budget can stand.”

He called the proposed choice between an unchanged COLA and health insurance premiums “both threatening and demeaning.”

For retired professor Alan Baharlou, an immigrant from Iran who chaired EIU’s geology and geography de-partment for 25 years, the proposed pension changes raise moral and ethical issues beyond contractual commit-ments made to employees.

He said that as someone who came from a country where laws and constitutions were not adhered to, “I get very emotional” about the proposed pension changes. “It’s not just the pension. It’s the law. It’s our constitu-tion.”

The legislation is House Bill 5210.

via Senate endorses limited pension reform; workers protest.

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