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House passes pension fix for park district

Updated: December 9, 2013 10:45AM



SPRINGFIELD — State lawmakers wound up voting Wednesday to enact pension reform after all, but the plan that burst out of the Illinois House wasn’t the long sought solution to Illinois’ $100 billion pension morass.

By an 87-26 vote, with two members voting “present,” the House approved and sent to the state Senate legislation designed to fix the Chicago Park District’s $971 million pension shortfall that threatens 6,100 existing park employees or retirees.

Wednesday’s vote could be a template for the state in addressing its own pension-funding woes that have triggered a lengthy, legislative stalemate over finding a fix.

Under the plan carried by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, current employees would be asked to contribute up to 2 percent more out of their paychecks by 2019 while the park district would up its contributions to the system by $75 million during that period.

Retirees, meanwhile, would see their 3-percent annual increases drop to as little as one-half of the rate of inflation.

“This is a local pension system. This is not a state pension system. There’s no state money involved in this. Just local money,” Madigan told colleagues during a floor speech. “It’s a case where the people responsible for the operation of the pension fund have come to the General Assembly with a plan to restore fiscal responsibility to the fund.”

The plan is designed to bring the park district’s pension plan, which now is only 43.4 percent funded, up to a 90 percent funding level eventually.

The park district pension dilemma is one part of a larger, more crippling pension headache facing city taxpayers and Emanuel, whose call for help from Springfield has taken a backseat while state lawmakers spin their wheels on finding a fix for the state’s five underwater pension systems.

“This is an honest solution to address a problem that has been decades in the making,” Emanuel said in a prepared statement. “It reflects a balanced approach of reform and revenue, giving employees, retirees and taxpayers the security and certainty they deserve but that has long been missing.”

On the House floor, Madigan acknowledged the plan has “mixed” support from labor unions.

“Some are for. Some are against,” he said. “Generally, you’ll find the trade unions support the bill. The non-trade unions, maybe not.”

On another issue, state Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside) stripped out a contentious section from a piece of legislation designed to increase prison sentences for gun-related offenses, heightening its chances of passing the House in an expected Thursday vote.

Zalewski removed a provision that would require first-time gun offenders to serve a minimum of 85 percent of their prison sentences. It was removed to “address concerns of unintended consequences,” a spokesman said.

The legislation still contains enhanced prison sentences for repeat gun offenders who are felons or gang members and takes away the option of military-style, less-restrictive boot camp sentences for those shooters.

The move muted opposition to the legislation from the National Rifle Association.

Email: dmckinney@suntimes.com

Twitter: @davemckinney123



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