WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Illinois Budget Approved; Pension Reform Lingers

Jun 1, 2012

Illinois lawmakers worked 90 minutes overtime to complete work on the new state budget. But they still have not addressed concerns with the state's pension system.

The Budget

The  Democratic budget imposes cuts throughout state government. But Republicans say the high spending levels mean the temporary income tax increase will have to be made permanent.

Democrats were attacked from within, too.

Democratic Senator Kimberly Lightford railed against what she said is too little money for higher education.

“This  is not a balanced budget. That is not true. This is underfunding education,” Lightford said.

“Underfunding the poor, the people who need our help, the  reason why we're here -- to govern, to help people who need our assistance the most.”

Her complaint was met with some resistance from Democratic Senator Dan Kotowski.

 ”There  are some people in this chamber who didn't get the memo. We don't  have any money,” Kotowski said.

He said the budget spends less than the amount of money the state expects to take in.


Illinois has the nation's worst-funded pension system so there is heavy pressure on lawmakers to find savings.

“I really believer everyone understands this has to be done, this absolutely has to be done,:” said Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno.

She is encouraged by the Senate's decision to give legislators and state employees smaller pensions.

Despite  suggestions the vote was symbolic, Democratic Senate President John Cullerton  said it's the real deal.

“Because I believe this is going to become the law.  The House will take this up.  I don’t know when they’ll take this up, they will  take this  up,” Cullerton said.

The legislation does not affect public school teachers' and university  employees' retirement benefits. That's because there's a largely partisan divide over whether the state or schools should pick up the tab for those workers' benefits. That divide prevented the House from passing a broader pension  package. 

In  a statement, Governor Pat Quinn said the pension system is “drowning in an ocean of unfunded liability” so “inaction ... is not a choice.”

Statehouse observers believe that is a signal that legislators will be called into special session to deal with it.

Thanks to Illinois Public Radio