Illinois Passes on Pensions, Boots Lawmaker

  • August 20, 2012
  • By Jim Malewitz

Illinois lawmakers emerged from a special session Friday (August 17) with one fewer lawmaker and no plan to address the state's soaring pension obligations.  

Despite Governor Pat Quinn's late efforts to float anything — even a watered-down proposal — past the gridlocked legislature, lawmakers in both parties refused to take the bait. As a result, a solution for Illinois' worst-in-the nation pension crisis, which threatens to downgrade the state's already low credit rating, is nowhere in sight.

“Today is a disappointing day for Illinois taxpayers,” Quinn said in a statement. “The only thing standing between our state and pension reform is politics.”

As Stateline has reported, Illinois' pension obligations are growing quickly and claiming increasingly more of the state's budget. This year, the state must pay $5.1 billion into its five pension funds. Payments are eating up all new tax revenue and forcing cuts to schools and Medicaid. If left unaddressed, the total pension debt could reach $93 billion within a year.

Quinn's last-ditch effort at progress came in a bill that would have scaled-back lawmakers' pensions, addressing just a slice of the overall problem. The bill would have trimmed cost-of-living increases for current legislators while doing away with retirement plans for newcomers, saving an estimated $111 million by 2045.

The plan survived a House committee vote but failed to reach the floor, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“This is window dressing for political campaigns," Representative Greg Harris, a Democrat, told the Tribune. "It does not begin to address the problem."

The Illinois House did, however, find consensus on one issue: to oust one of its members. In a 100-6 vote Friday, lawmakers voted to expel Derrick Smith, a Chicago Democrat facing federal charges for allegedly pocketing a $7,000 bribe.

In March, Smith was arrested after a federal sting operation. Federal prosecutors accuse him of accepting the money to write a letter to support a fictitious day-care center's efforts to net a $50,000 grant.

Smith, who was not at the statehouse for the vote, became the first lawmaker expelled from the Illinois House since 1905, the The Associated Press reports.

Smith said he plans to continue his bid for reelection, according to the The Tribune. As AP reports, a win in November would render his expulsion moot. The Illinois Constitution prohibits either legislative chamber from removing a lawmaker twice for the same offense.

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