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Illinois Digs Pension Hole Deeper


After an abortive attempt by Governor Pat Quinn to pass a pension reform bill in January, it almost seemed like things were looking up: The Illinois House and Senate each passed different reform bills early this month.

It didn’t take long for the news to turn sour again, however. Now it’s looking doubtful that the two bodies will be able to come to an agreement on either of those two bills. Yesterday the Senate delivered a crushing blow to the House proposal, defeating it 42 to 16 (it needed 30 votes to pass). With the legislature preparing to adjourn at the end of the day today, it won’t have much time to get anything done before the break.

The Senate bill still has a shot at passing the House; House Speaker Michael Madigan has not yet brought the measure up for a vote. But even if that bill passes, it’s not clear it will do much for the state’s problems. Unlike the House plan, which reduces cost-of-living increases, places a cap on income that counts toward pensions, and forces employees to contribute more, the Senate version merely offers pensioners access to state health care if they voluntarily opt-out of some pension benefits. The difference is reflected in the numbers: The Chicago Tribune reports that the House plan would save the state $187 billion and bring the pension system to full funding, while the Senate plan would save a relatively meager $57.6 billion. (Naturally, the Senate plan has the most union support.)

Pension reform is not yet yet dead, but it’s increasingly clear that any legislation that makes it through the legislature will be far too weak to fix the worst state pension system in the country.

[State Capitol of Illinois image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Pete

    American politics is not symmetric. As a general rule, once a policy/law is enacted and become the status quo, it takes far more energy & effort to significantly change or repeal it than it does to block reform efforts.

    Here, the advantage goes to the defense.

    So, blue states may have to crash & burn economically before meaningful public pension reform is able to be enacted.

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