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Past Due: House Panel Debates Legality Of Rauner Pension Plan

Amanda Vinicky
NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The Illinois House held its first hearing on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal to address the state’s unfunded pension liability. 

Under the governor's plan, employees would keep all the retirement benefits they have logged so far, but would see a cut to their benefits going forward. Democrats on the House's pension committee said last week’s Illinois Supreme Court opinion, overturning pension changes passed two years ago, rules out that idea.

“The court was very clear about what we can and cannot do. It seems to me that it is a nonstarter to pretend that this 38-page opinion doesn’t exist out of an issue of pride. I’m sure that the governor’s office is proud of the proposal, but that proposal isn’t realistic anymore in light of what the court did,” Democratic Rep. Scott Drury said. 

Rauner's staff argued that the plan is legal because it does not reduce current benefits — only those yet to be earned. Republican Rep. Jeanne Ives said employees in the private sector have already faced that reality. “My brother, AT&T employee, he got five years, and then he was told ‘you’re immediately shifted to a 401(k).’ This happens all the time. At that point, it’s your decision to continue employment or to not continue employment.”

Rauner wants lawmakers to pass a solution during the spring legislative session, which is scheduled to adjourn at the end of this month. Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekritz, who is chair of the committee and was a key player in passing the pension law the court tossed out last week, said she thinks it’s unlikely that a plan could be negotiated and approved in that time.   

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