SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a proposal to make it more difficult to approve government worker pension increases, advancing a measure that voters will likely get to consider this fall.
The legislation, sponsored by Speaker Michael Madigan, would require a three-fifths vote by state lawmakers, city councils and school districts around the state to sweeten any employee pension perks. The constitutional amendment proposal goes to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved in time to appear on the November ballot.
Madigan maintained that the proposal is the "tough medicine" governments need. The speaker, who has been at the Capitol for decades as the state's public pension system was vastly underfunded, said lawmakers have trouble voting against increasing benefits because the "temptation is too great."
The three-fifths mandate for approving pension boosters is a higher bar than the simple majority required at most levels of government, including pension boards that also would be covered under Madigan's plan.
"It creates an extra hurdle," said Madigan, D-Chicago.
Republican Rep. Darlene Senger of Naperville called the measure a "step in the right direction" toward blocking future pension abuses but warned that voters should not think the measure will resolve the state's pension shortfall of more than $80 billion.
"This does not change anything with regards to the debt," said Senger, the House GOP point person on pension issues.
House Republicans later tried to get a vote on a proposal to require a three-fifths vote to pass a tax hike, but Madigan's lieutenants quickly scuttled the plan.
On the other side of the Capitol, Democrats led by Senate President John Cullerton shunted proposals to ban legislative scholarships to a subcommittee, a potential setback to efforts to kill the time-honored perk.
The Senate has always been the toughest hurdle in banning the sometimes-abused scholarship program. But Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said he expected one of the three proposals in subcommittee to emerge.
Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont charged Senate Democrats with playing political games to kill off the ban. Radogno said she is "completely cynical" about the chances of a proposed ban ever coming to a vote because one of the bills put into a subcommittee has 38 sponsors, and it only takes 30 senators to pass the legislation.