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New Pension Bill Would Walk Back Reforms

By Chris Bentley in News on Dec 12, 2011 7:00PM

A pension reform bill awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature could lose its bite under legislation introduced by House Democrats last weekend.

HB 3813, passed Nov. 29, calls for public pensions to be based on the employee’s regular salary instead of union rates. It also contained language specifically booting two lobbyists from teacher pension programs they nabbed by substitute teaching for one day in 2007.

The new version of the bill, SB 1673, makes exception for current union officials who are on leaves of absence from their regular jobs. Republicans said they’re worried the new bill would not stop the practice of basing public pensions on higher union salaries.

The Senate Bill also eases up on the two Illinois Federation of Teachers lobbyists, Steve Preckwinkle and David Piccioli, who took advantage of a 2007 law that allowed them to qualify for public pensions after subbing for a single day.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park) said the Senate could separate the lobbyist issue by passing another bill already approved by the House without taking action on more wide-ranging revisions to the reform bill.

McCarthy, who chairs the House pension committee, said Sunday he’s sponsoring the revisions because pension reform passed in November could violate the state’s constitution. House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) echoed concerns that the bill might unconstitutionally change retirement benefits for already-retired union members.

Last week, The Tribune and WGN-TV revealed a federal grand jury subpoenaed 11 union officials in Chicago over bloated pensions. At least eight union officials, records related to the criminal investigation said, double-dipped — they received or were deemed eligible for both city and union pensions despite a state law that was supposed to prevent that. At $85 billion in the hole, Illinois’ pension system is the state's biggest money crisis.

Gov. Quinn supported the earlier bill, which is en route to his desk.