Try 3 months for $3

SPRINGFIELD | Illinois lawmakers are penciling in Dec. 5 on their calendars as a possible date for a return trip to the Capitol.

Before hastily leaving town Thursday, Democratic leaders told members to hold the date in case a framework evolves to begin chipping away at the state’s $100 billion public worker pension debt.

Under the latest potential solution being reviewed by actuaries, cost-of-living increases given to pensioners would be temporarily frozen and then reduced. A plan endorsed by a special committee also would limit the amount of a worker’s salary that can be counted toward a pension.

Additional concepts on the table include offering workers a 401(k)-style retirement savings option and phasing in an increase in the retirement age.

Plans being discussed by the panel and by the four legislative leaders could save an estimated $138 billion over 30 years.

As an indication officials are prepping for a possible vote next month, the House Personnel and Pensions Committee on Wednesday positioned an empty bill on the docket. If an agreement is reached, language could be inserted into the shell and quickly voted on.

Republican leaders in the Senate also are polling their members to find out which dates lawmakers might be able to return to Springfield, spokeswoman Patty Schuh said Friday.

Some lawmakers say they aren’t pushing for a December special session.

State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, said he is not opposed to waiting until lawmakers return to action in late January to address the pension problem because any changes, whether enacted in December or in January, won’t take effect until June.

“They’d have to pay us extra to come back next month. We could come back in January and it wouldn’t cost anything (extra),” Forby said.

State Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, said he wants to make sure any plan is thoroughly reviewed by all stakeholders before he casts his vote.

“I don’t know if organized labor has seen any of the plan,” said Smiddy, whose wife is a teacher.

State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, said changing the cost-of-living adjustment now given to retirees could be a big money-saver. He said he’s been told to be ready to return sometime in December.

“I think the thing that upsets me the most is that this will hurt the people who did what they were supposed to do,” Verschoore said.

“If it was easy, we’d have done it a long time ago,” added state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley.

The lack of action on the pension problem is already percolating as a campaign issue.

Republican businessman Bruce Rauner — one of four GOP candidates seeking to take on Gov. Pat Quinn in 2014 — released an ad this week blaming the situation on the Democrat from Chicago.

“The highest unemployment in the Midwest. The worst credit rating in America. And 100 billion in public pension debt. It’s time for fundamental change in Illinois,” the ad says.

As the fall veto session was winding down this week, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, remained coy about a possible return date.

But, he said, “I’m prepared to do it whenever everybody else is ready to do it.”


Senior Copy Editor

Jeanette is a journalist with The Times Media Co. who has worked as both a reporter and editor. She has a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield.