House signals support for capping pensions

2013-03-08T00:00:00Z House signals support for capping pensionsKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau
March 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

SPRINGFIELD | The Illinois House approved legislation Thursday to limit the salary upon which retired state workers can base their pensions in the future.

On a 65-7 vote, the proposal would cap the top pensionable salary at $113,700, ending a practice in which some employees and educators have collected six-digit pensions reflecting significant end-of-career salary bumps.

State Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, who sponsored the proposal, said the move could save the state’s massively underfunded pension systems about $1 billion.

The measure would not affect people who already have pensions over the capped limit.

Approval of the amendment was the latest test vote on pension reform in the House, where lawmakers have been asked to cast votes on issues ranging from freezing cost-of-living increases to boosting employee contributions.

It all could be leading up to a final vote on a more comprehensive pension plan sought by Gov. Pat Quinn.

“It’s a good step forward,” House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said after the vote.

However, Madigan criticized Republicans for withholding their votes on the measure.

“In America you get elected to a legislature to vote. That’s the American system,” Madigan said.

State Rep. Mike Bost said the GOP boycott is not necessarily a sign members don’t support all of the various ideas.

Rather, the Murphysboro Republican said his colleagues are withholding their votes because the speaker is calling each provision of a pension fix on an individual basis, rather than in one complete piece of legislation.

“Never before have we built a bill this way before,” Bost said. “It’s political games to hang people out on various votes.”

“It’s not that I wouldn’t want that in a bill, but there may be many other ideas that should be in there too,” Bost said.

Some Republicans, however, said they believe the proposal violates a clause in the Illinois Constitution barring the reduction of pension benefits.

“As a state representative, I swore to uphold the Illinois Constitution and that is what I intend to do,” said state Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg.

The legislation is House Bill 1154.

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