SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois House could vote as early as Thursday on a plan to cut pension benefits for state workers, university employees and public school teachers.
The legislation, designed to begin chipping away at the state's massive pension debt, was endorsed by a House committee Wednesday on a 9-1 vote.
The lone "no" vote came from state Rep. Raymond Poe, a Springfield Republican who represents thousands of state employees who would have to pay more of their salaries toward their retirement benefits and then see less in benefits once they retire.
Specifically, the plan would limit the 3 percent automatic cost-of-living increases received by retirees and raise the retirement age to 67. The plan also would limit how much of an employee's salary could be used to calculate their retirement benefits.
Supporters say the package would bring the pension systems to a 100 percent funding level over the next 30 years, while also saving the state $150 billion.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is sponsoring the overhaul, said the changes will bring stability and solvency to the state's underfunded pension systems.
Labor union officials panned the proposal as unfair to workers and unconstitutional.
"It's a good think you're not kicking the can down the road. It's a bad thing that you're kicking our members in the butt," said Henry Bayer, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.
"Cutting benefits is not the solution," said Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.
The proposal doesn't contain a provision requiring downstate school districts and universities to pay more towards their employee pension costs. But, the issue is unlikely to go away.
"I plan to do that on a different bill," Madigan told reporters.
Gov. Pat Quinn praised the latest development.
"Illinois' economy will not fully recover until the General Assembly passes this comprehensive pension reform and sends the bill to my desk. Now is the time to take this major step to restore fiscal stability to Illinois," Quinn said in a prepared statement.
While Madigan and House Minority Leader Tom Cross predicted the measure would win approval in the House, its prospects in the Senate remain uncertain.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has argued that employees and retirees must be given a choice of whether to accept lower benefits in order for the overhaul to survive a legal challenge from the unions.
"The question is what happens in the Senate," Cross said.
Madigan said he believes a majority of the state's seven-member Supreme Court will sign off on the legality of the legislation.
"I think there will be at least four members of the Illinois Supreme Court that will approve the bill," Madigan said.
"It's comprehensive. It does the job that needs to be done," Cross said.
The legislation is Senate Bill 1.
This story will be updated.
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