PI Original Matthew Blake Tuesday October 25th, 2011, 6:38pm

Unions Fight To Keep Pension Reductions Out Of Veto Session (VIDEO)

The two-week Illinois General Assembly veto session started Tuesday with public and private sector unions trying to kill a bill that would reduce the pension benefits of current public employees.

The two-week Illinois General Assembly veto session started Tuesday with public and private sector unions trying to kill a bill that would reduce the pension benefits of current public employees.

The We Are One coalition of unions revived ads it ran during the spring legislative session and will rally outside the capitol building at noon Wednesday to protest Senate Bill 512.

Here's a look at one of the coalition's ads:

But this pension bill – which has pitted unions against major lawmakers and fiscal hawks like the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago – might not see the light of day in a whirlwind two-week legislative session that will try to address numerous items of unfinished business.

On the first day back, the Illinois Senate passed a bill increasing utility rates – which Gov. Pat Quinn reiterated he adamantly opposes. And tax breaks for Chicago's financial exchanges has apparently died on the vine.

The General Assembly is also expected to tackle gambling expansion and legislative scholarships in the veto session.

As for pensions, SB 512 more or less does for current state public employees what a bill Quinn signed last year does for new hires. The retirement age is raised from 60 to 67 and employees must contribute a higher percentage of their earnings into their pension fund, receive reduced benefits, or enroll in a self-managed retirement plan.

The bill is intended to address $85 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

Anders Lindall, spokesman for the public employee union AFSCME Local 31 and a member of the We Are One coalition, assails the bill for violating collective bargaining agreements and, possibly, the state constitution.

Lindall points out that city and state politicians, “Have used the public employee pension fund as a credit card” and that the bill, “punishes public employees for politician’s mistakes.”

The real way Illinois can get its fiscal house in order, Lindall argues, is a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to have a progressive, instead of a flat, income tax.

“It would raise substantial revenue while keeping tax rates the same for a majority of Illinois taxpayers,” he says.

We Are One’s opposition to SB 512 puts them at odds with both the Democratic head of the Illinois House, Speaker Mike Madigan, and the Republican leader, Rep. Tom Cross. However, unions helped stall SB 512 in a House committee last May.

If a pension bill is not voted on, the biggest piece of legislation considered during the veto session could be a bill calling for gambling expansion across the state, including a Chicago casino.

The gambling expansion bill passed in the spring, but Quinn says he will veto any measure that puts slot machines at racetracks. Lawmakers are trying to write a new version that Quinn will approve. But the governor told lawmakers at a news conference today to, “Stop the delays and whatever else they’re doing over there.”

Also at the news conference, Quinn compared a revised utility rates bill to putting perfume on a skunk. Evidently undeterred, the Illinois Senate voted 37-20 Tuesday afternoon for a bill that raises electricity rates for consumers but also modernizes the state’s power grid.

But a bill to give corporate tax breaks to the CME Group – which controls the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Exchange – will reportedly not be brought up at the veto session, due to Republican opposition. The idea behind the bill was to prevent CME Group and also CBOE Holdings, Inc. from fleeing Illinois to a more tax-friendly state.

Another issue that could emerge in the veto session is the General Assembly’s consideration of Quinn’s idea to kill legislative scholarships – full-tuition scholarships to Illinois public universities that General Assembly members can hand out to constituents.

The General Assembly passed reforms to the legislative scholarship program in the spring, but Quinn signed an amendatory veto to kill the program in August.

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