SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois House passed pension reform measures Thursday that would cap “pensionable” salaries at Social Security wages and would increase retirement ages on a sliding scale for employees under age 45.
Following another series of “test-votes” as part of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s (D-Chicago) “weekly order of business” process, the House passed its first pension reforms of the 98th General Assembly. The measures now move to the Senate.
The measure capping salaries – $113,700 indexed for inflation – upon which pension benefits can be based passed in the chamber by an overwhelming 101-15 margin. The change would apply only to employees hired before Jan. 1, 2011.
The bill that raises the age at which state employees can begin collecting benefits passed by a closer 76-41 vote; however, the measure would not include Illinois judges. Retirement ages for employees hired before Jan. 1, 2011 would increase by one year for those ages 40-45, three years for those ages 35-39, and five years for employees under age 35.
Neither bill changes retirement benefits for state employees hired after Jan. 1, 2011, according to Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), who presented the bills on the House floor. Nekritz said the bills are identical to measures included in a comprehensive bill she has been working on with House Republican leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego).
That bill passed a House committee by a 9-1 vote Thursday and now moves to the House floor for a full vote. When asked if she thinks the two measures passed on the House floor Thursday could be included in a similar comprehensive reform bill down the road, Nekrtiz said, “That would be my hope, but that’s off my pay-grade.”
While House Republicans have largely decided not to participate in the pension “test-vote” process the last two weeks, each bill received full participation this time with a number of Republicans supporting each measure.
In light of recent Securities Exchange Commission fraud allegations against the state, Cross conveyed his persisting irritation with Speaker Madigan’s “piecemeal” process in the House to his colleagues.
“But when the SEC says to the state of Illinois, ‘you’ve played games and used gimmicks in the pension area,’ why wouldn’t we come in and come before this body with a holistic, comprehensive approach to solving the pension problem?” Cross asked.
Still denouncing the process and its potential to set up a challenge in court, Cross applauded Nekritz for her efforts and threw his support behind both bills.
“I hope that were not setting the stage – we’re rescinding a series of different bills to the Supreme Court and not in one big package, which I think could cause a lot of mischief for this issue and this problem,” he said. “So I’m going to support the underlying bill…but this is not the process that works on the biggest issue facing the state.”
House members also debated a measure that would increase the amount employees have withheld from their paychecks for pension benefits by 3 percent. But questions surrounding the plan’s constitutionality prompted the chamber to vote it down by a 37-79-1 vote.