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Staff sends best wishes for the holiday season

Published: Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 9:27 p.m. CST

Just as the state bird – the cardinal – brings joy to a dreary winter day, my staff – Jesse, Shelley, Joyce and I – wish this holiday season will provide you with hope, joy and peace. We have appreciated the privilege to represent DeKalb, Ogle and LaSalle counties for the past nine years and regret losing some of this area in the new district. On behalf of my communication specialist Terry Horstman, I hope the Pritchard Perspective newsletter has been of assistance to keeping you informed about issues in state government.

The 97th General Assembly returns to Springfield on Jan. 3 for six more days of session where any number of difficult and controversial issues may be addressed. The veto session left unresolved pending legislation on such issues as state pension reform, temporary driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, legalization of medical marijuana and expansion of gaming. Moving into a new year, fewer votes will be needed to pass such legislation in January.

New pension plan

As Illinois’ leaders remain gridlocked on how to reform and sustain the state’s pension system, a frustrated group of 21 lawmakers held a press conference to introduce a new reform bill and show bipartisan support for many of the ideas being discussed.

The sponsors admitted an actuarial analysis of House Bill 6258 was needed to determine its cost impact, which Gov. Quinn quickly embraced. The sponsors said the legislation should be viewed as the foundation for a final bill that the legislative leaders would introduce to sustain the system, pay the unfunded liability and stabilize the budget.

HB 6258 also was meant to focus the discussion away from some current proposals to reduce pension benefits and toward options to pay the unfunded liability without major reductions in other state programs. This is a point most of those who oppose reform fail to recognize.

I am concerned about the cost shift for annual pension payments to local employers of state workers like school districts, colleges and universities. While this bill provides for a slow cost shift and local responsibility for the pension implications of employee salaries, it could be improved by giving these local employers full state appropriations in a timely manner for funding education, relief from unfunded state mandates and protection from future state-directed pension cost increases.

The plan would not reduce any pension benefits that state employees or retirees have earned but would reduce the cost-of-living adjustment, increase employee pension contributions and raise retirement ages in the future. In addition to teachers, the changes would apply to state government workers, university employees, judges and members of the General Assembly.

While many of the bill’s concepts have been previously introduced by individual legislators, HB 6258 has gained broader bipartisan support for combining ideas, minimizing the impact on retirees, broadening the areas of reform and jump-starting pension reform discussions.

Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, is the state representative for the 70th Legislative District, which includes most of DeKalb County. He can be reached in DeKalb at 815-748-3494, or online through his website, www.pritchardstaterep.com.

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