SPRINGFIELD — State lawmakers inched along Thursday with ideas aimed at solving Illinois' nearly $100 billion pension crisis as three different proposals -- including a bipartisan plan -- saw movement.
The bipartisan plan is sponsored by House Republican Leader Tom Cross and Democratic state Rep. Elaine Nekritz and requires higher employee contributions and generally delays cost-of-living increases until age 67, among other things. It also tests out making universities and some school districts pick up their own pension costs for new employees.
The House Personnel and Pensions Committee approved it 9 -1, sending it to the full House.
Nekritz and Cross have said their plan would cut the state retirement systems' debt by roughly 30 percent.
The committee vote came shortly after House members approved two smaller pieces of reform in a laborious process aimed at trying to find consensus on how to solve Illinois' worst-in-the-nation pension problem.
One of the bills, House Bill 1154, caps the salary that pension benefits are based on at the limit set for Social Security, currently $113,000 a year.
The other bill, House Bill 1166, pushes back the retirement age by different increments based on age group. For example, younger employees will see a later retirement age.
Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, spoke against the change in retirement age, saying it's likely to be found unconstitutional. The state constitution prohibits existing pension benefits from being "diminished or impaired."
"If we're going to fix the pension system, if we're really going to provide a solution, we ought to abide by the constitutional mandates and the constitution of the state of Illinois," Hoffman said.
Hoffman also spoke against Amendment 7 of House Bill 1166, which failed but would have increased pension contributions by 3 percent of salary. Hoffman said labor unions, in negotiations, had agreed to a 2 percent, phased-in increase.
Lawmakers have been zeroing in on the problem in smaller doses after more typical legislative routes have failed. However, some Republicans have criticized the process as directionless, and the process also means duplication of the same ideas in several pending bills.
Nekritz, who's been at the heart of pension talks, defended the tactic. Lawmakers have been unable to agree on a plan for more than a year, even with intense urging from Gov. Pat Quinn, who's made it his top priority.
"Working this bill in a traditional way, we really have not been able to come up with a solution," Nekritz told lawmakers.
How metro-east representatives voted:
HOUSE BILL 1154
Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton: Yes
Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton: No
Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville: Yes
Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis: Yes
Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon: Yes
Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville: Yes
HOUSE BILL 1166
AMENDMENT 7 to HB 1166: