With the clock ticking on the current legislative session in Springfield, Illinois lawmakers are scrambling to find a solution to the state's massive shortfall in the Teachers' Retirement System (TRS).
The most hotly debated topic in the Illinois General Assembly on Tuesday was a plan to gradually shift pension liabilities from the state to local school districts, universities and colleges. The proposal is part of Senate Bill 1673, a pension bill backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).
An Illinois House committee voted 6-3 to send the proposal to the House before Thursday's adjournment deadline, NBC Chicago reports.
House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego slammed Madigan and the proposed shift, calling it a "poison pill" to kill pension legislation. The state should take responsibility for the pension shortfall, Cross said, not teachers, school districts and taxpayers.
"Maybe you, Mr. Speaker, need to take responsibility for your actions," Cross said. "For the last 40 years you have had your fingerprints on the mess we have today."
Madigan defended his position after Cross spoke on the House floor, according to an NBC Chicago report.
"There is a concept in America that we all try to live under, which is called responsibility," Madigan said of the proposed pension shift.
Illinois currently has an $83 billion unfunded pension liability—$44 billion of which is from the TRS. The state has to come up with $5.1 billion for pensions next year, the Associated Press reports.
Local officials have objected to the proposed shift, saying it could be tough for Wheaton Warrenville Community Unit School District 200.
"With 1,500 employees in this district it could be a big burden," District 200 Superintendent Dr. Brian Harris said at with area lawmakers.
District 200 spokesman Erica Loiacono said if Senate Bill 1673 passed today—based on the district's current payroll—it would cost the district about $870,000 in the plan's first fiscal year of 2014.
If legislators were to adopt the plan, school districts could begin seeing the effects immediately.
"Without a referendum, our hands essentially are tied if we were to seek new revenue," Doebert said. "In the meantime, students will suffer the consequences of the legislators' actions. Students will be the ones who have fewer classes from which they can choose and fewer extra-curricular opportunities to sharpen their skills and explore their talents."
The current legislative session ends Thursday, May 31.
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