Lawmakers inch along on pension reforms

SPRINGFIELD – State lawmakers inched along Thursday with ideas aimed at solving Illinois’ nearly $100 billion pension crisis as three different proposals – including a bipartisan plan – saw movement.

The bipartisan plan is sponsored by House Republican Leader Tom Cross and Democratic state Rep. Elaine Nekritz and requires higher employee contributions and generally delays cost-of-living increases until age 67, among other things. It also tests out making universities and some school districts pick up their own pension costs for new employees.

The House Personnel and Pensions Committee approved it 9 -1, sending it to the full House.

Nekritz and Cross have said their plan would cut the state retirement systems’ debt by roughly 30 percent.

The committee vote came shortly after House members approved two smaller pieces of reform in a laborious process aimed at trying to find consensus on how to solve Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation pension problem. Lawmakers have been zeroing in on the problem in smaller doses after more typical legislative routes have failed. However, some Republicans have criticized the process as directionless and the process also means duplication of the same ideas in several pending bills.

Still, there was some movement Thursday as House members approved two amendments, sending the bills to the Senate. The first caps the salary that pension benefits are based on at the limit set for Social Security, currently $113,000 a year. The other amendment pushes back the retirement age by different increments based on age group. For example, younger employees will see a later retirement age.

Nekritz, who’s been at the heart of pension talks, defended the tactic. Lawmakers have been unable to agree on a plan for more than a year, even with intense urging from Gov. Pat Quinn, who’s made it his top priority.

“Working this bill in a traditional way, we really have not been able to come up with a solution,” Nekritz told lawmakers.

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