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Fox Valley lawmakers weigh in on state pension reform vote

Illinois Sen. LindHolmes D-Aurorargues pensilegislatiwhile Senate floor Illinois State Capitol Tuesday Dec. 3 2013 Springfield Ill.  (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Illinois Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, argues pension legislation while on the Senate floor at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 in Springfield Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: January 6, 2014 1:09PM

Partisan politics weren’t in play when Fox Valley legislators voted on the state’s pension reform bill Tuesday.

Or were they?

The bill, known as Senate Bill 1, passed 62-53 in the House and 30-24 in the Senate. The bill now awaits action from Gov. Pat Quinn, who has promised to swiftly sign it.

Most Fox Valley legislators voted in support of the pension reform bill, including: state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia; a Democrat from Aurora; state Rep. Kay Hatcher, a Yorkville Republican; state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, a Democrat from Oswego; state Rep. Darlene Senger, a Naperville Republican; state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, a St. Charles Republican; state Sen. Jim Oberweis, a Republican from Sugar Grove; and state Rep. Tim Schmitz, a Batavia Republican.

Former House Republican Leader Tom Cross, a Republican from Oswego, voted against the pension bill. State Sen. Linda Holmes, a Democrat from Aurora; state Rep. Bob Pritchard, a Republican from Hinckley; and state Rep. Mike Fortner, a West Chicago Republican, also voted “no.”

The deal — expected to save $160 billion over 30 years and reduce annual pension payments by as much as $1.5 billion — also would hike retirement ages for younger government workers and force some of them to go as many as five years without a post-retirement increase in their pensions.

In return, existing government employees would have less withdrawn from their paychecks to cover pension premiums, and four of the five state retirement systems would get new powers to sue the state if it ever skipped or shorted making annual pension payments.

‘Right direction’

Oberweis, who voted yes Tuesday, said the pension reform bill was a “step in the right direction.” Oberweis is running for Dick Durbin’s U.S. Senate seat.

“This bill is not true reform, but it seems to be the best we can get at this time,” Oberweis said.

Oberweis said he has real concerns about the contents of the 325-page bill.

“There is no guarantee that the money saved by these reforms will actually be used to pay down debt, instead of being used for new programs,” Oberweis said.

Hatcher said the pension vote was one of her hardest. Knowing that the lawmakers’ call would affect retirees, folks in the system and the 12 million Illinoisans who help fund the system was “an emotional roller coaster,” she said.

Hatcher ultimately voted “yes.”

“This was absolutely not a perfect bill,” Hatcher said. “But if we had done nothing, in a couple of years, there would have been little pension system to discuss. We would have been too far down the track of insolvency to come back for it.”

Senger, who is running for Congress in the 11th District, said passing the bill is a great stride toward improving the business climate in Illinois. She was part of the 10-member, bipartisan pension conference committee tasked with fixing the state’s pension problems.

“With the vote, Illinois gives relief for taxpayers and certainty for public employees, while providing much needed budgetary room for essential services and education,” she said.

Kifowit, an Oswego Democrat, said the pension reform bill will ensure the pension system is secure for future generations. She said that today’s lawmakers were forced to create a fix for the funding gap made by past legislatures.

“Unfortunately, there were promises made by the legislature that we needed to reverse on. I feel very remorseful that this is the situation that we find ourselves in,” she said.

‘Inherently unfair’

Holmes, a Democrat from Aurora, was the only member of the bipartisan pension conference committee not to sign off on the latest pension bill presented to lawmakers.

Holmes subsequently voted against the plan. She compared the pension deal to a thief who comes into houses at night to steal valuables and said the state’s teachers and public sector workers did their part to pay out of their paychecks every week.

“This is inherently unfair,” Holmes said from her downtown Aurora office Wednesday. “This is quite plainly a breach of contract in the most simple of terms.”

Holmes said the funding guarantee in the bill can be reversed by any future general election, and called the move “blatantly unconstitutional.”

Gubernatorial candidates Bill Brady, a Republican state senator from Bloomington voted “yes” on the bill, while state Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Republican from Hinsdale, voted “no.”

Did Holmes, a Democrat, believe that politics were at play to give Democrat Quinn a re-election bump?

“On the political end, I think this was done to give the governor a win,” she said. “And I don’t think that’s worth forsaking benefits for anybody.”

Sun-Times Media
contributed to this report.

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