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Two ideas being floated to reform pension system

Rezin confident compromise will be reached between bills

SPRINGFIELD — In one corner, there’s House Speaker Michael Madigan — the powerful Chicago Democrat whose pension overhaul plan passed through the Illinois House just over two weeks ago.

In the other, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), whose own plan — worked out with union members — passed the Illinois Senate last week.

At question remains an underfunded pension system that Gov. Pat Quinn in March said would eat up one-fifth of the state’s general revenue in the next fiscal year.

There are two bills being mulled in the General Assembly.

And only a couple weeks to act before the legislative session ends.

Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris), who voted against the Cullerton bill, said she does not feel the Senate plan uses strong enough language to prevent missed payments in the future.

“The three things we’ve talked about are that it has to be constitutional, it has to be 100 percent funded in 30 years, and has to ensure we make payments in the future,” Rezin said.

“In my opinion, this doesn’t do that.”

The Cullerton plan, Senate Bill 2404, essentially gives workers a choice of benefit plans, with current workers choosing among three plans and retirees choosing between two.

The Madigan plan would increase employee contributions and reduce benefits.

Cullerton believes his plan is more constitutionally-sound than the Madigan plan, and has said it will reduce the annual payments by about $850 million in 2015 from what is currently scheduled.

But Rezin said the numbers were not clear at the time of the vote, and believes the plan will be challenged regardless.

Some unions, under the coalition We Are One Illinois, have expressed support for the Cullerton plan, including the Illinois AFL-CIO.

The Illinois Retired Teachers Association, which apparently was not part of the discussions with Cullerton, has come out against both bills and has said it would challenge their constitutionality.

Rezin said both Cullerton and Madigan have been told by lawyers that their bills are constitutional.

“I don’t know if they are or not,” Rezin said. “But both the speaker and the Senate president believe the framework is constitutional.”

The Senate bill is currently in the House.

If they pass it, the bill will go to Gov. Pat Quinn, who has indicated support for the Madigan plan.

If they make any changes, the bill will go back to the Senate.

Rezin said she believes the House will amend the bill to add a cost shift.

That’s a lot to do by the end of the month, when the session ends. But Rezin stuck to earlier statements that she expects action to be taken.

“I think we will see some sort of pension reform,” Rezin said. “I do think it will happen by the end of May.”

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