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Local lawmakers: Get it done

Unions will have to give, too, Dems say

The state's unfunded pension liability is $96 billion – the highest in the country. It's a number that grows by $17 million a day.

Lawmakers representing Whiteside and Lee counties agree on at least one thing: The state must find a solution as soon as possible.

They also say each side must make concessions. Even the Democrats, Rep. Mike Smiddy of Hillsdale and Sen. Mike Jacobs of East Moline, both of whom represent Whiteside County, say the public employee unions who largely funded their recent campaigns will have to give some.

"Any time you are in a position of negotiating between parties, you'll make someone mad," Jacobs said. "I don't think it's fair to blame the whole pension problem on labor unions. At the same time, I think the labor unions will have to give a little bit."

A big reason for the $96 billion in liability is that the state didn't pay enough into its pension funds for years. Sometimes, it paid nothing at all.

Unions say they have done their part, while the state has not.

With any pension reform package, local lawmakers want to see some type of guarantee that the state pays its part.

"Any time we're asking for concessions from state workers, we need to keep our promises," Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said. "The state should pay what it's required to pay, so we don't end up with the same problem in a few years."

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has pushed a bill that would require workers to choose between higher cost-of-living adjustments in their retirement benefits or access to health insurance in retirement.

Jacobs supported a bill with that concept last year, but Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, said he opposed it because it would have given the power to the head of the state's Central Management Services to set insurance premium rates.

The Cullerton bill is seen as a way to get around a state constitutional ban on paring back workers' pension benefits.

Bivins expects a legal challenge nonetheless.

"That's the problem. No matter what happens, it'll be litigated," the senator said.

Demmer said he liked Cullerton's concept, saying it's a way to trim costs.

"It gives employees a palatable way to bring reform," he said.

Smiddy said he's not a big fan of the Cullerton proposal.

"If we can sit all the parties down and come up with an agreement, it'll make it a lot easier to get something accomplished," he said. "If it's something the Legislature jams through, the other side will look at challenging it through the court system. It will hurt our state economy, a further hit to our credit rating."

The House reconvenes on Jan. 30 and the Senate on Feb. 5.

How they stand on same-sex marriage

A bill allowing same-sex marriage may come before the General Assembly during its spring session. How would our local lawmakers vote?

Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon: No. He said that although such a bill probably will pass in Illinois at some point, he is against it. He fears that such a bill could infringe on churches' rights, among others. (Phone: 815-284-0045)

Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline: Undecided. He told the Pantagraph in Bloomington last week that he was "wrestling" with the issue and wanted to hear more discussion. "I think this issue has brought up more questions than answers, and when that happens, I sort of get nervous about passing a 'yes' vote, but I'm not opposed to a 'yes' vote. I'm just not quite there," he said. He said he would like to see additional research on effects on children with same-sex parents, parents' rights and church positions on the issue, the Pantagraph reported. (Phone: 309-797-0001)

Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon: No. "I believe marriage is between one man and one woman." (Phone: 815-561-3690)

Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale: Yes. "I believe marriage equality should be afforded to everyone in the state. (Phone: Not on state House website)

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