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Preckwinkle to try for pension reform again after fall election

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle   |  Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Wednesday she’ll try again after the fall election to get her worker pension reform measure through the Legislature in Springfield.

After passing the Senate, the bill got bottled up in the House during the waning days of the session. Not enough majority Democrats got on board with the measure, which also needed nominal support from Republicans to pass.

“After the election I think is a good time to try to do this,” Preckwinkle said, curtly addressing the issue during a news conference after a Cook County Board meeting. “I think it’s easier for people to cast difficult votes after elections.”

The bill would have increased employee retirement ages and pension contributions, while reeling in retirement benefits. But it preserved a compounding, cost-of-living increase that state and city retirees have been denied under legislation that passed the General Assembly last year and earlier this spring.

That drew fire from Democrats and Republicans alike. Republicans thought that the compounding cost-of-living increases were too generous, while some Democrats didn’t like the cost-of-living increases because of opposition from union allies in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Now the plan is to get the bill passed after the fall election, when lawmakers aren’t as worried about the votes they take — either because they’ve been re-elected or because they will soon be out of office.

“We’ve got some work to do in building support among the Democrats in the majority and securing Republican support,” Preckwinkle said.

During the recently adjourned session, Bruce Rauner, the Republican candidate for governor, worked behind the scenes to stymie the bill. AFSCME also opposed the measure, because they say it unfairly reduced benefits.

In an interesting twist, the National Rifle Association lobbied against Preckwinkle’s pension plan. While a spokesman for the gun group could not be reached for comment, Preckwinkle said they were upset that she marshaled a law through the county board in February 2013. That measure requires gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms, her office said.

“I understand they were unhappy with some legislation we passed,” Preckwinkle said.

When the county pension bill re-emerges, it will more or less take the same form, Preckwinkle said.

“In conjunction with our unions, we came up with a package that we felt comfortable with, and unions representing 61 percent of our workforce were prepared to support,” she said.



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