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Cullerton says Madigan-backed pension plan faces critical 'problem'

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SPRINGFIELD-A House-passed plan that Speaker Michael Madigan has endorsed to fix Illinois' nearly $100 billion crisis contains a flaw that could amount to a legislative stake-in-the-heart in the state Senate, the top Senate Democrat said Wednesday.

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said the legislation contains a provision that eventually could leave retired suburban and downstate teachers with less in benefits than they are legally entitled to if they qualified for Social Security benefits, potentially forcing teachers and the school districts that employ them to begin paying into Social Security.

"It's just a problem. It's another negative on the bill, if it's true," Cullerton told reporters Wednesday evening.

The issue was raised by the state Teachers' Retirement System in a financial analysis it and three other state retirement systems produced on the financial impact of Madigan's Senate Bill 1. That assessment showed that pension package would save the state $187 billion in payments during the next 30 years, triple what a Senate-passed plan that has stalled in the House offers.

Thursday is shaping up as a pivotal day in the Senate on pensions, with Cullerton saying he intends to survey his 40-member caucus on Senate Bill 1 and other pension-reform options

One of those options may involve three obscure bills that the House passed in March and that quietly began moving in the state Senate Tuesday evening.

Legislation to hike the retirement age for employees under 45, cap "pensionable" salaries at Social Security wages and delay when retirees can get compounding, annual cost-of-living increases was discharged from the Senate Assignments Committee.

The House passed all three bills in March in a series of test votes on pensions to gauge support for a comprehensive pension-reform package. The three bills contain key pieces of what eventually got put into Senate Bill 1, which has faced a flurry of intense union opposition.

"All legislative options for a comprehensive plan are being considered," Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon told the Chicago Sun-Times Wednesday.

It's "time to look at every possible pension solution with the caucus so that we can chart a way forward," she said.

The three bills passed the House with bi-partisan support in mid-March but have remained bottled up in Senate committee until late Tuesday. If the Senate were to pass the three piecemeal pension plans that moved out of the House in March, they would go directly to the governor.

How much the three House bills passed in March would save collectively isn't entirely clear. They are House Bill 1154, House Bill 1165 and House Bill 1166.

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