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Editorial: Senate bill falls short

Updated: April 22, 2013 12:03PM

A pension reform bill passed the Illinois Senate on Wednesday!

Too bad the bill, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton, won’t solve the state’s financial troubles, nor is it likely to pass the Illinois House.

That leaves but one option for lawmakers in a state that has already dropped off the fiscal cliff: Keep trying.

Illinois’ $97 billion unfunded pension bill demands a big, sweeping solution. If there was ever a time to make it happen, it’s now.

The answer lies in a separate bill that failed in a Senate vote Wednesday.

That plan, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Biss, is the only plan out there that truly reforms public employee pensions. It significantly cuts benefits — we won’t sugarcoat that — but does so in a fair and targeted way by phasing in an increased retirement age, shielding the pensions of the lowest income retirees from cuts and giving the retirement systems the right to sue if the state fails to pay its share.

Biss’ bill fell short by seven votes. Insiders tell us it simply can’t pass and it’s time to get real.

No doubt there is truth to that claim. But Illinois lawmakers can do better.

And really, 23 votes on a bill that wasn’t pushed by the Senate president is a pretty good showing the first time out of the gate. Picking up seven more votes as the spring legislative session continues is doable, particularly since Biss’ bill appears to be the favored approach in the House. A similar House bill is sponsored by Reps. Elaine Nekritz and Tom Cross.

Cullerton’s bill, SB1, is a change from earlier versions.

It covers only Downstate teachers and pointedly excludes current retirees from pension cuts. Cullerton is still rounding up support for a companion bill that covers state workers, university employees and legislators and includes a provision that would let the courts choose which plan is constitutional, his or Biss’.

If Cullerton’s approach were to prevail, the savings would be significantly less than under Biss’ bill.

Cullerton insists his approach has a better shot of surviving a constitutional challenge.

While we respect that view, Illinois would be smart to take a chance on a bill — Biss’ bill — that could solve the state’s pension woes once and for all.

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