Illinois Lawmakers at Odds with Madigan over Proposed Pension Shift

A plan to shift the cost of teacher pensions from the state to local school districts became the most hotly debated topic in Springfield on Tuesday.

With the clock ticking on the current legislative session in Springfield, Illinois lawmakers are scrambling to find a solution to the state's massive shortfall in the Teachers' Retirement System (TRS).

The most hotly debated topic in the Illinois General Assembly on Tuesday was a plan to gradually shift pension liabilities from the state to local school districts, universities and colleges. The proposal is part of Senate Bill 1673, a pension bill backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

An Illinois House committee voted 6-3 to send the proposal to the House before Thursday's adjournment deadline, NBC Chicago reports.

In a House floor speech that has since gone viral, State Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) slammed Madigan for the last-minute vote. 

"Total power in one person's hand -- not the American way!" Bost screamed before throwing a stack of papers into the air. "...These damn bills that come out here all the damn time, come out here at the last second. I've got to figure out how to vote for my people! You should be ashamed of yourselves! I'm sick of it!"

House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego also criticized Madigan and the proposed shift, calling it a "poison pill" to kill pension legislation. The state should take responsibility for the pension shortfall, Cross said, not teachers, school districts and taxpayers.

"Maybe you, Mr. Speaker, need to take responsibility for your actions," Cross said. "For the last 40 years you have had your fingerprints on the mess we have today."

Madigan defended his position after Cross spoke on the House floor, according to an NBC Chicago report.

"There is a concept in America that we all try to live under, which is called responsibility," Madigan said of the proposed pension shift.

Illinois currently has an $83 billion unfunded pension liability—$44 billion of which is from the TRS. The state has to come up with $5.1 billion for pensions next year, the Associated Press reports.

Local officials have slammed the proposed shift, saying it would be "detrimental" to both and

“If this plan were to pass, it would be detrimental not only for schools in Lemont, but for almost all schools across the state,” . “District 113A and many other school districts have already made dramatic cuts. We simply cannot afford this; it would destroy public education.”

Madonia said it would cost District 113A an estimated $735,000 to take on the state's share of pension liabilities. 

In April, , which is equivalent to the salaries and benefits of 11 teachers and represents more than 60 percent of the school’s annual budget for extracurricular activities and athletics.

"Lemont High School is in much better financial condition than most school districts, and this will have dramatic effects on our efforts to educate our students,” District 210 Superintendent Sandra Doebert said. “I can't imagine what districts that are not financially healthy will have to do. I also can't imagine what the state will do when school districts across the state cannot meet their financial responsibilities as a result of this unfunded mandate."

If legislators were to adopt the plan, school districts could begin seeing the effects immediately. Without any new sources for revenue, the burden would likely fall on the taxpayers to maintain the level of education in Lemont, officials said. 

"Without a referendum, our hands essentially are tied if we were to seek new revenue," Doebert said. "In the meantime, students will suffer the consequences of the legislators' actions. Students will be the ones who have fewer classes from which they can choose and fewer extra-curricular opportunities to sharpen their skills and explore their talents."

The current legislative session ends Thursday, May 31.

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Mike Colaizzi May 30, 2012 at 05:01 PM
For all but a few years down in Springfield over the past 40 Mike Madigan has cut deals and called the shots. Now because his deals and disregard for funding the pension system by shifting money to pet projects he wants us taxpayer's to bite a poison pill. When will we wake up, and vote some of these clowns out of office??
Edward Andrysiak May 30, 2012 at 06:54 PM
What bothers me is that these politicians only know how to look for "new" money via taxes. I guess they want us to assume that governent is ruinning as efficiently as is possible when in fact we know there is plenty of waste. So, I for one would like to see money raising come from two avenues...one, some taxers and two, an equal amount of cuts to existing costs. I wonder how much money we tax payers could save if we had a suggestion system giving a 10% of first years savings as an award.


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