Pension Reform Plan Still Behind Closed Doors for Now

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois House lawmakers continue to work to put together a plan that would limit the future pension benefits of teachers, state employees and politicians themselves in an effort to curb spending on one of the state’s biggest financial drains.

Rep. Tim Schmitz, a Batavia Republican, said supporters are hoping for a vote this week on a plan from House Republican Leader Tom Cross. The details are still being negotiated, but generally, government workers would have three options for retirement. Any benefits they’ve already earned would be untouched.

They could move to a more austere pension plan put in place this year for new workers, they could go to a 401(k)-style plan, or they could stay in the current pension system and pay more out of their own pockets to do so.

How much more they’d have to pay is still being hashed out.  “It’s a moving target right now,” Schmitz said.  But facing a tight deadline of May 31 before lawmakers are scheduled to leave Springfield for the year, some are skeptical a big pension change will get done.

“My sense is it’s probably not going to go anywhere,” said Rep. Mark Beaubien, a Barrington Hills Republican. 

Among the reasons it might not is staunch opposition from public employee unions, who argue that changing pension plans of current employees is unconstitutional. Even if a plan is approved by lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn, it almost certainly faces an immediate lawsuit. 

“The pushback from the unions has just been ferocious,” Beaubien said.

Some Democrats say they don’t know if they support the plan yet, because the details have largely been kept behind closed doors. Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat, says he supports pension reforms but isn’t sure about the three options Cross has proposed.

Still, he said, despite the looming deadline, pension reform is still a possibility this year. “Here in Springfield, nothing’s dead until the end,” Franks said.