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Pension reform, recreational marijuana efforts stall at statehouse

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois (Illinois News Network) -- Illinois state lawmakers from opposite sides of the aisle have different takes on what didn't get done at the statehouse this session.

Legislators are back in their districts for the summer and won’t be back in action until November for fall veto session. When they were in Springfield, they passed a budget, some ethics reforms, named roads and honored people who died.

What did lawmakers neglect to address? State Rep. Allen Skillicorn said lawmakers failed to tackle reforms for the state’s underfunded public pension systems.

Illinois has $130 billion in unfunded pension liability, more than any other state and a main debt driver for the state’s poor credit rating. Reforming the pension programs has been difficult, in part, because the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled the state constitution does not allow for the diminishment of promised benefits.

There were several resolutions for a statewide ballot question to ask voters if the state constitution should be amended to address the pension issue, but none were advanced, let alone debated, on the floor or in committees.

“Raising prices [and] lowering the services, it’s just going to drive more and more millennials, working families and seniors out of the state,” Skillicorn said.

As part of the budget for the coming fiscal year, lawmakers did offer up pension buyout plans they say will save taxpayers money, but the plans are optional and critics say the savings can’t be guaranteed. It’s unclear how much, if any, the plans will lower the amount of unfunded liability.

State Rep. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago, said one measure lawmakers dropped the ball on was instituting his bill to provide a child care tax credit for parents and providers.

“A sort of market-based solution to provide more incentives to parents to find the best programs and for those programs to create additional slots I think could really be useful in moving the middle-class, lower-middle class forward in terms of having more money for child care and better quality child care in the state,” Mitchell said.

Lawmakers passed more than 600 bills so far this year alone. Taking into account last calendar year, which was the first of two years for the 100th General Assembly, lawmakers passed more than 1,220 bills.

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for INN.