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Pension reform gets tabled by lawmakers
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/31/2009 12:01 AM

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SPRINGFIELD - The state's pension systems will not be split into two levels of benefits, the plan's sponsor said Saturday.

"At this point I believe the case has not been made to advance," said state Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat. Harmon sponsored Gov. Pat Quinn's idea of putting all new state, university and public school hires in a new, reduced benefit system.

As envisioned, all existing employees would have their constitutionally guaranteed pension benefits continue under the current system. The changes would only apply to people hired after a new system went into place.

In general, people would have to work longer to get a full pension and pay more for their benefits. Annual cost-of-living increases would be tied to inflation rather than a flat 3 percent.

Quinn's initial budget counted on using the future savings now as justification for not making the required pension payment of more than $4 billion this year and more than $5 billion next year. However, an Associated Press analysis suggested doing so could cost taxpayers more than $90 billion over the next three decades.

Harmon said it was unlikely the plan would be considered in the remaining hours of lawmakers' spring session.

At the same time lawmakers said state pension plan wouldn't advance, they voted to do away with a two-tiered system for a select group of retired firefighters.

Fewer than 100 firefighters who retired in the 1970s get less lucrative benefits than those who retired afterward. Lawmakers voted to let those firefighters - all at least 80 years old - get benefits under the new system. The communities where those firefighters served will have to pay for the increased benefits.