Illinois House passed comprehensive pension reform

By WEEK Producer

May 2, 2013 Updated May 2, 2013 at 10:48 PM CDT

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- The Illinois House passed a comprehensive pension bill Thursday afternoon after years of debate. This bi-partisan plan would take major strides to address near $100 billion of unfunded liability in the state's pension system.

"While the first reaction from that state worker or teacher might be you're taking away my pension, I happen to believe you're really saving the pension and creating some long-term viability. A tough vote, but unfortunately, I think a needed vote," said House Republican Leader Tom Cross.

The bill narrowly passed 62-51. The vote was a mixed bag. One local republican supported the bill.

"I voted mostly because it's just an indication on my part of how important it is to come up with some resolution of this issue before the end of session," said 73rd District Representative Dave Leitch.

Another local republican could not, citing House Speaker Mike Madigan's desire to have downstate school districts pick up the cost of teacher's pensions.

"When the Speaker was pressed on the bill during the debate, he did admit that he is coming back with the cost shift. Even though it wasn't in this bill he still plans to come to the cost shift. I think that's going to be a terrible, terrible mistake for all of our local taxing bodies," said 91st District Representative Mike Unes.

At its core, the plan requires employees to contribute 2% more of their salary toward retirement. There are also adjustments to cost of living increases and it raises the retirement age for those under 45. Under this plan, the pension system is estimated to be fully funded by 2045.

"Changing those benefits it kicks us into a spot where we can really make up some ground, and what it means in other areas is we'll spend about $2 billion a year less on pensions," said Cross.

The bill will now head to the Senate for a vote, but its fate there is uncertain as there is talk they could be coming up with a new plan.