FILE - Illinois State Capitol

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois.

Two Republican lawmakers have thrown their support behind a teachers union-backed bill that would reverse a recent change meant to penalize government bodies for a practice known as pension spiking.

Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, and Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Andalusia, are sponsors of Senate Bill 3622, which is also supported by the Illinois Education Association.

The legislation would reverse a change made in the state budget that lowered the threshold for when governments such as school districts would have to pay extra for end-of-career salary spikes from six percent to three percent, saving state taxpayers an estimated $21 million across all pension funds.

The 3 percent cap was included in the 1,245-page budget that some lawmakers said they had little time to read before it was called for a vote hours ahead of a legislative deadline. The budget passed both chambers in May with bipartisan support and the 3 percent cap was touted as a reform.

“The cap limits financial compensation and deters teachers from furthering their education and taking on additional coaching or tutoring roles,” a statement from IEA said. “All of this makes the teaching profession a less desirable career choice and ultimately lowers the quality of education our students receive.”

Fowler, who voted for the budget bill that contained the reform explained his reversal in a statement on the IEA website.

“Many parts of Illinois are in the midst of a teacher shortage crisis – and I believe lowering the cap will only make that worse,” Fowler said. “This is why I’m sponsoring this legislation.”

Messages seeking comment from Anderson and Fowler were not returned.

State Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, was critical of the new bill, saying going back to 6 percent is the wrong direction. She wants all pensions for future employees shifted to the school districts.

“You’re never ever going to correct all the games that can be played against taxpayers until the taxpayers have to fund it all at the local level,” Ives said. “That’s what has to happen over time and you can do this in a reasonable way.”

Both Fowler and Anderson are on November's ballot running for re-election.

Ives said the measure is pure politics.

“So these folks putting in an IEA-backed legislation to increase pension costs for taxpayers is crazy,” Ives said.

A recent investigation by the Illinois News Network found even when the threshold was at six percent, school districts have still paid $23.8 million in pension-spiking penalties since 2014.

Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for INN. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “The Council Roundup,” as well as “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.

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