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Senate passes union-backed pension bill despite GOP opposition

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton

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Updated: June 11, 2013 6:39AM

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate put itself on a collision course with the House on Thursday by approving a Democratic pension-reform package favored by unions despite opposition from Republicans and a clear signal from Gov. Pat Quinn that it wasn’t his preferred pension fix.

“This is not a bill that just helps us this year or next year. This will help us for the next 30 years, and we have to be practical. We have to pass a bill. This is the best chance to do so,” said Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), the measure’s chief Senate sponsor.

His legislation, which passed the Senate 40-16 and moves to the House, would wipe away about $11.5 billion of the state’s nearly $100 billion pension shortfall — savings that are barely a third of a competing alternative from House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and now in the Senate’s lap.

“The big problem with this bill is that it doesn’t solve the problem,” said Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine), who like most Republicans voted against the plan.

The vote came after Quinn made clear that his loyalties lie with the Madigan version of pension reform, not the bill the Senate voted on Thursday.

The only Republicans to back Cullerton’s effort were Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet); Sen. Pam Althoff (R-McHenry); Sen. Michael Connelly (R-Lisle), and Sen. Sam McCann (R-Carlinville).

The lone Democratic no votes belonged to Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), who helped author legislation similar to Madigan’s, and Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago).

At its core, Cullerton’s plan gives existing government workers and Downstate and suburban teachers and retirees different options that, in varying degrees, involve voluntarily giving up or delaying annual, compounding 3 percent cost-of-living increases in retirement in exchange for continued access to state-subsidized health care.

The proposal has the backing of the We Are One Illinois coalition of labor unions, which includes the Illinois AFL-CIO; AFSCME Council 31; the Illinois Education Association, and the Illinois Federation of Teachers. That support means they won’t wage a legal fight to torpedo the legislation on constitutional grounds, Cullerton said.

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