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 slammed the proposed shift.
"I'm not keen on what's going on in Springfield," said Board of Education President Steve Quigley Tuesday.
"The state created 95 percent of the (pension) problem," Quigley said. "Balancing it on our backs is completely unacceptable."
Last week, educators rallied in front of Cross' Plainfield office, urging lawmakers to hold public hearings to allow teachers to have their say before making big changes to the pension system.
“We did our part for many years,” said Theresa Wiedman, a retired teacher. “It’s not our fault [that state is] in this bind."