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November 30, 2013

Ill. lawmakers briefed on pension deal

CHICAGO — Illinois’ legislative leaders briefed other lawmakers Friday on details of a breakthrough agreement for solving the state’s $100 billion pension crisis, leaving them four days to study the plan before facing a vote that could be crucial for the state’s financial condition and their own re-election plans.

A memo detailing the proposal announced by leaders Wednesday was sent to the four caucuses Friday and obtained by The Associated Press. It says the plan, which saves $160 billion over 30 years, would allow the state’s pension systems to be fully funded by 2044.

To do that, the retirement age for workers age 45 and under would be increased on a sliding scale, and automatic, annually compounded 3 percent cost-of-living increases — considered to be the biggest driver of the state’s pension costs — would be replaced. The new system would result in smaller annual adjustments for the highest earners.

Language to prevent “pension abuses” is also part of the plan, as the legislation would prevent nongovernment employees from participating in the system and keep new hires from banking sick or vacation time to boost pensions. And some workers would have the option of freezing their pension and starting a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan.

Legislative leaders have spent recent days drumming up support for the plan through conference calls and meetings with individual members. Senate President John Cullerton’s spokesman, Ron Holmes, said the Chicago Democrat is making “individual pitches” to “get people on board with the plan.”

“He feels it’s a productive way in case members have specific questions,” Holmes said.

Still, some members say a few days won’t be enough time to digest such a detailed proposal. State Sen. Michael Noland, a Democrat from Elgin, said he was hoping for feedback from union members and residents in his moderate, suburban district.

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