* Today’s Tribune headline…
Unions reject plans for pension overhaul
Reporters don’t write headlines, but that one is particularly misleading.
I posted it late yesterday, so maybe you didn’t see it, but here’s the statement from the We Are One Coalition on the new pension reform proposal backed by 21 rank and file House members in both parties…
“We appreciate lawmakers’ latest attempt to move the pension conversation forward. As we have consistently stated, the We Are One Illinois coalition stands ready to work collaboratively toward a solution.
We were not consulted in the development of this plan, but our preliminary review suggests that there are significant problems with HB 6258 that need to be worked through. The pension debt was caused by the state’s failure to make actuarially adequate pension contributions, not by public employees, but like its predecessors, this proposal essentially balances the pension debt on the backs of teachers, police officers, nurses, caregivers, and other public servants both active and retired. It is also unclear at this juncture whether this proposal is constitutionally or actuarially sound.
We intend to thoroughly analyze this proposal’s elements and provide a more comprehensive response in the coming weeks.”
Neither the tone nor the substance of that release indicates outright rejection. If anything, it indicates a strong willingness to work out the problems. And the sponsors of the measure said this was only a “framework.” Things can be changed.
* More hopeful signs…
The move comes as Gov. Pat Quinn presses legislators to send him legislation to cut pension costs. His spokeswoman welcomed the legislation as a step forward.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, gave his support to the plan because it represents a comprehensive pension overhaul — a standard he’s used when supporting other pension proposals, said Steve Brown, the speaker’s spokesman.
House Republican leader Tom Cross of Oswego was more cautious, saying he liked some components but was not ready to sign on to the whole package. “It’s got the discussion going again,” Cross said.
The proposal contains a provision similar to one pushed by Madigan to shift the costs of suburban and downstate teacher pensions from the state to school districts. Some lawmakers are concerned that would lead to higher property taxes. But Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican who is a co-sponsor of the bill, said school officials in his legislative district have signaled they may be able to absorb higher costs if stretched over many years.
* Another hopeful sign is that the Tribune editorial board didn’t resort to its usual demands to punish public employees and retirees with harsh pension measures. Instead, the paper looked at the bigger picture…
A group of 21 Illinois lawmakers filed a new pension reform bill Wednesday and hosted a news conference to unveil it. That may not sound like much. But given Springfield’s do-little history on this issue, it’s encouraging — not because of who headlined the news conference, but because of who didn’t: Gov. Pat Quinn, House Speaker Michael Madigan, House Republican Leader Tom Cross, Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno.
That quintet has been unable for years to build consensus on pension reform and lead a revolution. We’re hopeful this rump group of lawmakers can and will. This we know: For the first time, 21 rank-and-file sponsors and co-sponsors are stepping forward, declaring that they want to get serious on pension reform. They’re not waiting for Quinn and the four legislative leaders to cut a deal. They’re dealing.
Several of these members expressed impatience with the slow pace of progress. State Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, said there has been “a genuine frustration by lawmakers that there have not been meaningful negotiations.” State Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, added, “We must act now.”
We’ll take the liberty of reading between the lines: This group, all House members, wants a vote on this bill, or an amended version, before Jan. 9 when newly-elected legislators are sworn in. Good for them. We don’t see their initiative as a rebellious act against their leaders. It does, though, starkly highlight the failure of Quinn and the four leaders to solve the pension crisis.
“The cost shift is problematic. I don’t want to be critical of this,” House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) told the Chicago Sun-Times, referring to the Nekritz-Biss plan. “But I do think there are a few constitutional issues here.”
An aide to Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) also registered questions about how the idea stacks up to Illinois’ Constitution, which bars state pensions from being “diminished or impaired.”
“The Senate president is encouraged that members are identifying ways to capture the local share of pension costs from local school districts,” Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said. “However, the larger proposal appears to impose unilateral pension reductions without offering voluntary acceptance by participants. We appreciate the efforts of Representative Nekritz and her colleagues, but we will take a closer look at the plan to see if it can be squared with the pension clause.”
Nekritz said it’s difficult to judge whether the plan she and the rank-and-file lawmakers put together — or any pension cutback plan — will pass constitutional muster.
“We looked at a lot of the opinions that are out there with regard to constitutionality, and I just don’t think any of us standing here today . . . can know in advance what seven Supreme Court justices will do,” she told reporters. “All any of us can do is put our best foot forward to make sure we give them something to say, ‘Yes, we think this is constitutional.’”
* Cost savings of proposed Illinois pension reform plan are unclear
* Illinois Pension Reform: State Lawmakers Unveil New Plan To Fix Underfunded System
* Illinois lawmakers pitch pension fix