Amanda Vinicky

Members of Illinois' General Assembly return to the capitol Wednesday for a special session on pensions, where they're expected to pass off the problem to a yet another legislative committee. 



What to do about Illinois' $100 billion pension debt has confounded legislators for years.

The most recent barrier: the House and Senate -- as well as the chambers' respective leaders -- are fixated on different plans.  So they've agreed to a new approach they're putting in motion Wednesday.

What will the special legislative session next week accomplish?

"Nothing," says Rep. Rich Brauer (R-Petersburg).  Brauer was a guest on WUIS' Illinois Edition Thursday.  He talks pensions, concealed carry, same sex marriage and the state budget:

Illinois' credit rating has suffered another downgrade.

It follows the General Assembly's adjournment Friday without any agreement on what to do about the state's pension systems.


A string of previous downgrades already left Illinois with the lowest bond rating in the nation.

None of those spurred legislators to reach a compromise - and there's no telling if this latest one will be any different.

Fitch lowered Illinois from an A to an A- rating, a status that means it may cost more when the state borrows money.

The Illinois Senate overwhelmingly rejected legislation on Thursday that would curtail government employees' and teachers' retirement benefits.

It raises the question of whether lawmakers will do anything to address Illinois' indebted retirement systems before they adjourn Friday night.

The pension-cutting legislation passed the House at the start of month.

But when it got a vote in the Senate yesterday, it didn't just fail - it plunged.  The Senate vote was 16 to 42.

Amanda Vinicky

Even as the legislative session winds down -- its last day is Friday -- there's no agreement on a solution to the state's pension problem.   

It's not like the problem came out of nowhere.  The $100 billion dollars of unfunded liability accumulated over decades.

And legislators have been talking about what to do about it for years.   Especially this session.

The House and Senate each passed legislation to cut Illinois' costs by reducing state employees and teachers' retirement benefits.  But both measures are stalled in the opposite chamber.

Reps. Darlene Senger (left) and Elaine Nekritz discuss pensions in a Statehouse conference room.
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Members of the Illinois House continued pushing for their version of a pension overhaul Tuesday. The latest twist could affect how public school teachers' pensions are funded. Brian Mackey has more.

One of the more contentious issues in the debate over government pensions in Springfield has been who should pay for teachers' retirement benefits.

Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

The legislative countdown continues, as Illinois' General Assembly is set to adjourn Friday.   Lawmakers spent their Memorial Day at the capitol, where little apparent progress was made on many of the outstanding issues.    The Senate met only briefly yesterday - the bulk of Senators' time was spent in private, partisan meetings.That's where they often make decisions on how to proceed on controversial issues. Like the budget. 

Brian Mackey / WUIS

There are five days left in the Illinois General Assembly's spring session. Legislators have a lot of work ahead of them.  The House adjourns on Memorial Day at noon; the Senate convenes at 4 p.m.




Typically, fighting over the budget carries into the waning hours of a legislative session.

But Democrats - who have enough seats to pass a spending plan without any Republican votes - say they've already reached a deal.

Illinois Supreme Court Building
Illinois Supreme Court

Illinois lawmakers remain at odds over how to handle the state's $100 billion of pension debt.  But there's a chance that this spring the General Assembly may finally do something about it.  After years of no major action, there are not one, but two major packages designed to reign in Illinois' retirement costs.  The House and Senate passed competing plans.  Both of them seek to save Illinois money by cutting current and retired government workers' benefits.  But one important group of government workers are being left out of both deals - judges.

Amanda Vinicky

A state pension overhaul backed by government employee unions may save only half of what advocates had promised.  That underscores an ongoing battle between the House and Senate over pensions, with only ten days left in the legislative session.  


There's general agreement on this much: that Illinois' public pension systems have $100 billion dollars in unfunded liabilities.  That's a fancy word that basically means "debt."

It's a big number that's getting Illinois in trouble with bond houses and eating into the state's budget.

Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Illinois universities and community colleges have signed on to a deal that would have them pick up the cost of their employees' retirement benefits.  It's part of lawmakers' ongoing efforts to reduce how much the state is spending on pensions. 

Illinois has cut its spending on universities for years ... and even more reductions are expected next year.

School administrators say it's forced them to hike tuition, and to leave positions unfilled.

The Illinois Senate is expected to vote Thursday on the latest proposal to fix the state's drastically underfunded pension systems. In what's become a multi-year pension debate, many aspects of the plan have been put forth before. But it has one element that makes it unique.

The Illinois House of Representatives on Thursday approved a massive overhaul of state pensions. It's the first time the House has passed such a plan after more than a year of negotiating and many failed attempts.

Its also the first time Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, put his full support behind a specific proposal.

Amanda Vinicky

The Illinois House is poised to vote Thursday on an overhaul of the state's pension systems. The plan easily advanced out of a House committee Wednesday morning. But the Senate's working on different method. 

Wednesday began with a widespread feeling that after more than a year of failed attempts to reduce the state's pension debt, House Speaker Michael Madigan's proposal might be it. 

The Illinois House is poised to vote Thursday on an overhaul of the state's pension systems. It would reduce state workers', teachers', and university employees' future retirement benefits. The plan easily advanced out of a House committee Wednesday morning. 

There's a feeling in the capitol that after countless attempts to reduce the state's pension debt, this may be it. Insiders say it's significant that the plan's sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan — who rarely takes action without having support locked up. 

Charlie Wheeler headshot
WUIS/Illinois Issues

“All newspaper editorial writers ever do,” the late Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Murray Kempton once observed, “is come down from the hills after the battle is over and shoot the wounded.”

Whether Illinois legislators are wounded may be a matter of debate, but they certainly were the targets of a heavy barrage of scorn and disdain from the state’s media mavens in the aftermath of the spring session’s turmoil.