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March 7, 2013

Gov: Pensions to blame for Illinois' worst budget

(Continued)

Quinn was pointed in his challenge to the lawmakers to act on the pension crisis. "So, members of the General Assembly," he asked, "what are you waiting for?"

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, responded afterward that he was already taking action, having planned a committee hearing next week on his combination legislation. It would offer employees a choice on whether they want retirement health care or reduced annual cost-of-living increases, combined with a House-authored backup plan that would reduce post-career benefits and increase employee contributions.

"He's frustrated, and he wants us to do something, so we're going to start next week," Cullerton said after the speech, while noting the ongoing struggles that have prevented progress thus far.

House Democrats, with support from House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego, have a separate plan.

Although Quinn didn't hammer on the impact of budget cuts, such as the $400 million education reduction that will mean teacher layoffs, shorter school days and larger class sizes, Cross predicted taxpayers will start feeling the pinch and begin pushing for action.

"In the (House) speaker and perhaps the (Senate) president's mind, you're not going to lose an election because you haven't passed a pension reform bill," Cross said. "Now that we're starting to talk about effect on other services, people will start to realize."

The state's employer contribution to pensions of $6.8 billion in the coming year will represent nearly one-fifth of the $35.6 billion general revenue — money spent for state operations such as education and public safety — expected to come in during the budget year that begins July 1.

 

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