In Legislative First, Illinois House Passes Pension Overhaul

The Illinois House of Representatives on Thursday approved a massive overhaul of state pensions. It’s the first time the House has passed such a plan after more than a year of negotiating and many failed attempts.

Its also the first time Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, put his full support behind a specific proposal.

“This bill has been worked assiduously by many, many people,” Madigan says. “Obviously it does not meet every request. Obviously it does not make everybody happy.”

RAW AUDIO: The full House debate on Speaker Madigan’s pension proposal.

The legislation passed on a vote of 62-51 (pdf) — just two votes more than the minimum needed in the House.

The measure has parts of ideas that have been floating around for a while: state employees, teachers and university workers under age 45 will have to work more years before they’re eligible to retire. And the guaranteed 3-percent annual cost-of-living increases for pensioners would be scaled way back.

Labor unions are objecting, but House Republican Leader Tom Cross, of Oswego, argues a smaller pension is better than no pension.

“You may not like it, but it provides certainty that you will have a pension and you will know what that pension is,” Cross says.

It remains to be seen whether the Senate will take up this plan. It has passed significantly different pension overhauls, and the Democratic Senate president has long held that the approach taken by the House would be thrown out by the courts.

He says he’s working on a compromise measure with labor unions. And spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon says Cullerton hopes to present that and Madigan’s legislation to Senate Democrats early next week.

Governor Pat Quinn praised the vote, but stopped short of saying whether he would sign it into law.

— Brian Mackey

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