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A showdown in Springfield?

Senate passes less ambitious pension reform

The state Senate voted Thursday for a less ambitious plan to reform the state's pension systems.

Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, who represents Whiteside County, backed the bill sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, while Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, voted against it. The vote was 40-16.

Cullerton negotiated the plan with the state's public employee unions, touting the reform as constitutional. It would give workers and retirees a choice of retirement benefits. For instance, workers who wanted 3 percent cost-of-living increases compounded annually wouldn't get health insurance. Without such hikes, they would receive insurance.

Last week, the House passed a pension package that officials say would save three times more than Cullerton's. The measure, sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, would require workers to contribute more to the pension systems and get less in benefits.

Jacobs opposes the Madigan bill.

"I want a solution that takes care of the problem and will hurt everyone a little bit, not kill anyone," he said. "[The Cullerton bill] clearly passes my test. Would I like to have more savings? Yes. But at some point, there has to be a middle ground."

He mentioned that Gov. Jim Edgar and the Legislature passed pension reform in the 1990s, and "here we are" again.

If the Cullerton bill becomes law, Jacobs said, the state probably will have to address the issue again in at least 10 years.

"Future generations will have to deal with this issue," he said.

Bivins said he had been leaning in favor of the Cullerton bill, but he pulled his support after finding out about the opposition of the association representing retired teachers.

"I discovered that this one group was never at the table," the senator said. "They had concerns with the bill's constitutionality. That was one of my concerns. It was a major mistake not to have them at the table."

Bivins said he also opposed Madigan's bill.

In the House, Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, voted for Madigan's reform, saying something must be done to reduce the state's nearly $100 billion in pension debt.

Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, who represents Whiteside County, said Madigan's bill probably would be found unconstitutional. He said lawmakers need to sit down with all the parties involved.

Public employees unions have threatened to file a lawsuit if Madigan's measure is enacted.

A spokesman for Madigan told The Associated Press on Thursday that his boss and Cullerton wouldn't have a showdown, although it's uncertain how the leaders will proceed.

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