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Area lawmakers talk pensions at District 300 forum

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014 10:49 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014 11:48 p.m. CDT

ALGONQUIN – Area lawmakers on Tuesday questioned the estimated $160 billion savings in the state's new pension reform bill and warned that more reform is needed to solve the crisis.

Foregoing the microphone, state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, told nearly 100 students and residents during District 300's legislative forum on Tuesday that Illinois lawmakers missed an opportunity to pass real reform and generate enough savings to close the state's $100 billion unfunded pension gap.

"The bill that just passed didn't go far enough," McSweeney said. "Only in Springfield would they throw a 325-page bill at you, give you 24 hours to analyze it, and the numbers don't work. We missed an opportunity."

McSweeney voted against the reform after the four legislative leaders crafted the pension bill and presented it to members during a special session in early December.

Among the changes, the reform raised the retirement age for many state workers and reduced annual cost-of-living increases. The reform was estimated to save the state nearly $160 billion during the next 30 years.

Echoing his House colleague, state Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, told the District 300 crowd that he voted against the pension reform because the estimated savings don't add up.

Nearly $70 billion of the estimated $160 billion savings are "accounting gimmicks" that represent future financial moves that state officials would have to make, Duffy said.

State Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, said he voted against the reform because its unconstitutional. The cost-of-living changes break a promise in the Illinois Constitution that state pensions cannot be reduced, he said.

The Illinois courts will have to decide that question, as numerous labor groups already have filed lawsuits challenging the reform.

The concern that the pension work is unfinished left district officials wondering whether the state Legislature would again try to shift the pension burden onto local school districts.

District officials asked Duffy, McSweeney, Tryon and two other lawmakers about their support for it. All three McHenry County representatives said they would not support a shift.

The district hosts the annual event to gauge lawmakers' reaction to its own legislative priorities. Aside from the pension shift, the district focused on school funding, virtual charter schools and school construction funding.

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