Early Wednesday word was circulating that Tom Cross and Mike Madigan didn’t have the votes to move the pension bill out of committee. All committee meetings listed on the House schedule had been cancelled through Friday.
Then by late afternoon everything had changed.
According to Greg Hinz at Crains, a House vote is now scheduled for 9AM Thursday morning.
Calls are urgently requested.
Under the proposal as filed by House Republican Leader Tom Cross, workers covered by five state pension plans and various municipal retirement systems would keep all benefits they have earned to date but pay far more for benefits accrued in the future. Or they could pay less but get less than than they do today.
A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has talked regularly to Mr. Cross about the bill, said he believes the bill has the speaker’s support.
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress on pensions in the past couple of years,” the spokesman said. “We are going farther in that direction.”
Specifically, workers who were on the payroll before this year would have one of three choices.
1) Stay in the current system, but contribute 3.75% to 8% more as a share of salary, depending on the system. Judges would pay 23% more as a share of salary. The employer contribution generally would remain at 6% of salary. Employee figures would be adjusted after three years.
2) Accept the same sort of reduced benefits and higher retirement ages that were mandated for new workers hired after Jan. 1. In exchange, workers would contribute about what they do now, generally 6% or 7% of pay.
3) Enter a self-managed pension plan that would work much like a 401(k). Each side would contribute 6% of pay.
Overall, the proposal resembles one first advanced by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, a big business group. In addition to the state workers and teachers statewide, it could cover non-sworn Chicago employees — not police or firefighters — plus most workers for Cook County, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Park District.
Unions are strongly opposed.
“Teachers, police and other public employees work hard and play by the rules, but now the politicians want to change those rules and tell public employees they lost the game,” said a statement from AFSCME. “It’s the politicians who for years recklessly neglected to make contributions required by law.”
Proponents of the measure say that, rightly or not, the state no longer can afford to incur pension debt at the current rate, given the more than $60 billion in unfunded liability in the state’s employee pension funds.
One big question that is unanswered so far is how much transition costs would be for switching to a new system. That has been a big concern of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But the city is included in the bill, so I presume that matter has been resolved.
With the support of Mr. Madigan and Mr. Cross, the bill seems likely to pass the House. But while Senate President John Cullerton reportedly has agreed to allow the bill to come for a vote in his chamber, he says reducing pensions for those already on the payroll would violate the Illinois Constitution.
The measure, SB 512, is scheduled to come up for a vote in a House committee at 9 a.m. on Thursday.