A communication from State Rep. Mike Tryon:
May is shaping up to be a busy month in Springfield, as members of the House and Senate are trying to complete their work in time for a May 31 adjournment.
This Friday (May 10) is the deadline for Senate Bills approved in that chamber to make their way through our House committees and then those bills have until May 24 to reach 3rd Reading in the House.
While last week and this week will have House members spending a lot of time in committees, starting May 13 we can expect long days on the House floor as we hear hundreds of bills that have passed in the Senate and are seeking House approval.
Similar activity is taking place across the hall in the Senate Chamber, as the bills that were successful in the House through the end of April are now moving through the Senate approval process.
In addition to the movement of Senate and House Bills, May is the month when the FY14 budget will be finalized with House and Senate approval of appropriations.
Some highlights from last week include:
Madigan Pension Bill Clears Illinois House
With only two votes to spare, House Speaker Mike Madigan successfully pushed through a pension bill that requires participants from four of the State’s five pension systems to pay 2% more for their retirement benefits while limiting cost of living adjustments (COLA’s) and increasing the retirement age for all State employees under the age of 45. The bill also caps pensionable income at $113,600, and includes a provision that requires the State to make full pension payments every year.
I voted NO on this latest pension bill, SB1.
I have studied the pension issue in great depth with regard to constitutionality, and while I was fully supportive of capping pensionable income and making some other adjustments moving forward, I could not support elements of the bill that I firmly believe are unconstitutional.
The Illinois Constitution is clear in its language that states,
“Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”
In other words, the pension benefit is a legally-binding contractual condition of employment.
We can’t go back after the fact and change the earned benefits of today’s retirees.
Courts in other states agree.
In fact, nearly identical pension reform language regarding reductions to COLAs in Arizona and Colorado were recently challenged in court and found to be unconstitutional.
In Colorado, not only were the reductions in COLAs found to be unconstitutional, but the courts ruled that the money must be paid back to pension recipients.
I could not support a scenario where a bill was passed, budget changes were made, and then hundreds of millions of dollars would have to be re-budgeted and repaid after the bill was found to be unconstitutional.
Over the last few years I have sponsored three different pension bills that were comprehensive and constitutionally-sound.
These bills addressed areas of pensions that are not protected by the constitution, like capping pensionable income and changing employee contributions moving forward, and each bill also identified solid revenue streams for pension stabilization.
But as he so often does, Speaker Madigan buried the bills in the Rules Committee, and refused to allow them to be heard.
Senate President Cullerton Announces “Agreed “ Pension Bill
The first option in the Senate bill.
Just hours before Speaker Madigan’s pension bill passed in the House, Senate Majority Leader John Cullerton announced he had reached an agreement with pension system/state employee union leaders on a bill that addresses the pension crisis while protecting the constitutionally-guaranteed elements of employee benefits. The very unions that would certainly challenge SB1 in court say they are on board with the Cullerton bill, SB2404.
I look forward to reading and researching this bill, and if it indeed meets constitutional muster, I will strongly consider adding my name as a cosponsor. While it would probably not fully solve the problem, it could be a great first step in reining in an out-of-control liability. Leader Cullerton presented his bill to the Senate Democrat Caucus on Monday, and most, if not all, Senate Democrats are ready to support that bill.
Whereas the Madigan bill unilaterally cuts pension benefits to employees, the Cullerton plan offers employees a choice over what benefits they would be willing to sacrifice.
The second option in the Senate bill.
Under the Cullerton plan, current employees would choose from the following options:
- Option 1: Give up the current 3% compounded COLA for a flat 3% COLA that would be delayed for three years after retirement. In exchange, they would receive access to retiree health care plans and their future raises would count toward pensions. They would also have an option of enrolling in a 401(k)-style plan to supplement their pensions.
- Option 2: Keep their compounded COLAs but lose access to retiree health care which is subsidized by the State. Their future raises would not count toward pension benefits.
- Option 3: Keep their COLAs and access to retiree health care, but pay 2% more of their salaries toward their retirement benefits. Their COLAs would be delayed for three years after retirement.
The first option for pensioners in the Senate bill.
Today’s retired pension recipients and those who provided notice of their intent to retire by Jan. 1 of this year would choose from the following options:
The second option for retirees in the Senate bill.
- Option 1: Keep the 3% compounded COLA but give up access to retiree health care.
- Option 2: Retain access to retiree health care and a 3% compounded COLA, but the COLA would be frozen in years 1 and 3 of retirement.
Leader Cullerton said SB2404 could come to the Senate floor for a vote on Thursday of this week. If successful, it will move over to the House for our consideration.
Illinois Recovers $38 Million through New Unemployment Safeguards
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) has announced that thanks to an investigation and subsequent legislation sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators in the Illinois House, the agency has recovered $38 million in taxpayer funds that were improperly distributed to 22,000 individuals who received unemployment benefits while their address was an Illinois jail or prison. When the improper distributions were identified, new safeguards were put in place to cross-check unemployment benefit rolls against lists of persons convicted of crimes and serving time. I was shocked to learn that such common-sense steps were not already a part of the unemployment benefit screening process, but am pleased to know that it has been corrected and money has been recovered.
Welfare Reform Bills Filed in the Illinois House
I have signed on as a cosponsor for four bills which aim to reduce fraud and abuse within the State’s welfare system. Together, they will go far in addressing issues like the fraudulent use of food stamps and the inappropriate use of funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Included in the package of welfare reform bills are:
- House Bill 2784 guarantees that TANF benefits are used for the basic needs for which they are intended, like rent, utility and food costs.
- House Bill 3174 and House Bill 2490 would prevent criminals from receiving aid. They would suspend public aid and benefits to inmates at State correctional facilities and recipients with outstanding warrants.
- House Bill 133 ensures that a person using a LINK card (food stamps) is the authorized user. The proposal would require all LINK cards to display a photo of the cardholder to ensure that the person presenting it at the checkout counter is the same person who is entitled to use it.
Today, roughly 1/3 of all Illinoisans receive welfare benefits. It is my hope that through the passage of these bills, the number of individuals who receive welfare benefits will more accurately depict the actual number of citizens who qualify for the benefit. The bills are currently sitting in the Rules Committee.
House Republicans Call for Vote on Highly Restrictive Fracking Bill
A group of House Republicans held a press conference last week and pushed for a House vote on a widely-supported, bipartisan Fracking bill that has the potential to bring more than 45,000 jobs to Illinois and inject $9.5 billion into the Illinois economy. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process through which natural gas and oil are extracted from the earth through horizontal drilling. The process involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into rock formations to release the natural gas and oil. In spite of the fact that more than 50 House members from both sides of the aisle (myself included) have signed on as cosponsors of the bill, Speaker Madigan is refusing to release the bill from committee. Even the environmental community is on board with this bill, due to the strong provisions for environmental protection. The bill is the result of thousands of hours of meetings involving energy and environmental organizations, which resulted in an agreement that permits high volume fracking while enforcing the nation’s strictest water and air protections. It is the biggest job creator our state has seen in many years, and I join my colleagues in urging the Speaker to release the bill for consideration in the House.
Gambling Expansion Plan Clears Senate; Headed to the House
A gaming bill (SB1739) that would expand gambling in Illinois was approved in the Senate on May 1 in a 32-20 vote. The bill would authorize the creation of a 4,000-gaming-position land-based casino in Chicago and allow for electronic gaming at horse racetracks. It would also allow for the creation of four new riverboat casino licenses to be used in Danville, Lake County, Rockford, and in southern Cook County. It would also increase the authorized size of each existing riverboat casino from 1,200 gaming positions to 1,600 gaming positions. The bill is now pending in the House. I cannot support the bill as it is currently written, because nearly all revenue that could/should have been earmarked for Education, for paying down the backlog of bills or for pension stabilization has been wiped out through revenue promises made to a variety of special interest groups.
Supreme Court Grants IL Attorney General Lisa Madigan Extension on Concealed Carry Case
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan decided on Friday to give IL Attorney General Lisa Madigan an extra month to decide whether or not she wants to appeal an Appellate Court ruling that Illinois must allow for concealed carry. The decision does not affect the existing June 9 deadline for concealed carry in Illinois, as set by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. It also does not delay or impact when the case could be heard by the Supreme Court if Madigan decides to pursue an appeal of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision. The new deadline for an appeal decision is May 24.
I will continue to update you as needed as important issues move through the House and Senate during this very important month.