From Illinois Public Radio - News -

Illinois Senate OKs Union-Backed Pension Deal

John Cullerton

In this Jan. 3, 2013 photo, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, speaks at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (Seth Perlman/AP)

On Thursday, Illinois Senate voted 40-16 to advance an overhaul of the state's pension systems on Thursday.

This comes one week after the Illinois House approved a more severe set of benefit cuts. The differences in the proposals were at the heart of the debate.

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) negotiated this latest proposal with several labor unions.

Cullerton acknowledges his plan would save less money than the House proposal. But he said it is about as far as lawmakers can go without violating the Illinois Constitution, which states that government pension benefits "shall not be diminished."

Several Republicans, like Sen. Matt Murphy from Palatine, had a simple answer for that: don't worry about it.

"Don't get bogged down by these constitutionality arguments, because frankly we have a court for that," Murphy said.

"You can't just say, 'Aw screw the Constitution, let's just proceed without it,'" said Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago).

While the Senate plan would save less money than the House proposal, Democratic Senators point out that there would be zero savings from a plan that's not capable of surviving a court challenge.

The measure now goes to the House, where  Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Democrat)  said he remains committed to the other pension overhaul he pushed through his chamber last week. Madigan has saoid his plan could save the state three times more money than Cullerton's proposal.

Public-employee unions have said they will file a lawsuit if Madigan's bill is enacted. They say it violates a clause in the state constitution that says pension benefits can't be reduced.

Among East-Central Illinois senators, the vote was along party lines, earning solely Democratic support, with the exception of Mahomet Republican Chapin Rose.

Sens. Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign), and Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) also backed the package, while Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington), Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), and Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) voted against it.