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Pensions, budget dominate Demmer town hall

Lawmaker gives update before rest of veto session

DIXON – State Rep. Tom Demmer says that when he heads back to Springfield next week, the "big-ticket items" during the remainder of the Legislature's veto session are sure to be the state budget and pensions.

Those topics also were the dominant themes during a town hall Demmer hosted Tuesday night at Dixon City Hall. Demmer gave a legislative update for a group of about 20 people gathered in Council Chambers.

The 90th District Republican opened with a recap of highlights from the spring legislative session, calling the passage of a concealed-carry bill a big accomplishment. Illinois had been the only state that didn't allow it, and the judicial system turned up the heat on lawmakers.

"The federal court gave us 6 months to come up with a bill," Demmer said. "The diversity of views made it difficult – I think we had 30-some votes on provisions – but we came up with a great compromise."

Those "big-ticket" items also fell into the category of unfinished business from the spring session. Several in attendance shared their concerns about pension uncertainties.

Mary Gilbert of Dixon is retired from the Illinois Department of Corrections. She worries about the status of her pension and the free health care insurance she was promised throughout her 20-year career there.

"I'm really worried about the possibility of cuts," she said. "You tend to hear worst-case scenarios about pensions and insurance, and it can be a scary thing."

A prison educator, Gilbert said she finished her master's degree in 2005 to raise her pay scale and that it has paid off. But the uncertainty in Springfield makes it difficult to plan in retirement.

"You just put away as much as you can and really watch your budget," she said.

Cathy Seagren, a 35-year-plus employee of Sauk Valley Community College, also is finding retirement more stressful than anticipated.

"Someone tells you one thing, and then you hear another," Seagren said. "I like to travel, and now it's hard to figure out what you can afford to do."

Demmer said that none of the pension reform proposals on the table would cut pensions, but instead slow increases. He said that a reform bill must address such practices as double-dipping and inflating earnings right before retirement.

"We have got to shut down loopholes and gimmicks that hurt the most vulnerable to benefit a few," he said.

There is a glimmer of hope that a pension reform committee led by state Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, can give some direction to the pension efforts during the last 3 days of the 6-day veto session. Demmer says chances are slim the uncertainty will go away anytime soon.

"There's a chance a plan could come up next week, but I expect some political posturing, so right now I'd say it's unlikely," Demmer said.

Demmer did counter that with a reminder of how the 2010 pension reform bill was passed.

"You can never say never, the last pension bill was done in 36 hours."

Pension bill Demmer voted for

Key provisions of the pension bill that state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, voted for:

– Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) cap after a 3 percent adjustment on first $30,000

– Salary cap up to $113,000.=

– A 2 percent increase in employee contributions to protect benefits

– A phased-in 5-year increase in the retirement age

– Projected savings of bill is $140 billion over next 30 years

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