With reporting by Zach Buchheit
SPRINGFIELD-In another pension-related test vote, the Illinois House gave a thumbs-up Thursday to capping the salary upon which a retired state employee or teacher could have their pensions based.
The amendment carried by state Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside), one of three pension test votes in the House Thursday, would tie a retiree’s maximum pension to the most allowed under Social Security, which currently is $113,700 annually.
The step could save the state’s pension systems about $1 billion.
“This would remedy the situation where teachers and administrators later in their careers have their salaries inflated to a significant amount and that particular salary becomes onerous to the system,” Zalewski said.
The amendment to House Bill 1154 was positioned for a final vote by a 65-7 roll call, with one member voting present. That margin signifies enough support to meet a 60-vote threshold needed in the House to pass legislation.
A bid to suspend cost-of-living increases for state retirees for 10 years failed after drawing only two votes with 67 against. An amendment to boost employee pension contributions by 4 percent was voted down on a 11-58 roll call, with two voting present.
The up-or-down test vote process is a continuation of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s (D-Chicago) “weekly orders of business,” which began last week to debate gun safety and pension solutions.
Madigan called today’s process in the House “a good step forward,” even while all but two Republican members refused to cast any votes. Both Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights) and Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) broke ranks with their GOP colleagues by voting “yes” on capping pensionable salaries.
When asked what the House’s next move on pensions would be, Madigan told reporters, “Well, the next move would be for you to go ask the Republicans why they don’t participate in voting.
“You know, in America you get elected through a Legislature to vote. That’s the American system, right? So, you should go over there and ask them, ‘Why aren’t you voting?'”
On Wednesday, Madigan indicated that the point of the test-vote process is partly to help legislators understand the gravity of the decisions they will have to make to solve the pension crisis.
When asked if today’s process helped achieve that goal, Madigan said, “Yeah, I would hope so. It’s about time.”