Statehouse update: Pension reform group nears deadline to report cost-saving recommendations

Lori Clark
Lori Clark

In Springfield …

The Illinois General Assembly returns this week from a two-week spring break.

Lawmakers are now scheduled in weekly until they are expected to convene by May 31. If they go past this deadline, a super-majority is required to pass any bill.

Members of the Governor’s Work Group on Pension Reform is scheduled to release its report this week containing their recommendations on how to achieve cost-savings in the five state-funded pension systems, although they might miss the Tuesday, April 17, deadline set by Gov. Quinn.

Over the weekend, Rep. Elaine Nekritz, one of the legislative members of the Work Group, spoke to the press and indicated that they “will be asking public employee unions to accept lower pension benefits and a higher contribution rate in exchange for a more ironclad guarantee that the state will meet its funding obligations. The proposal also would shift the employer costs of local teacher and university employee pensions from the state to school districts and universities.” (State Journal-Register, April 14, 2012).

While we await the release of this report, it is important to note that this is still early in the process and no negotiations between the stakeholders have occurred. Please check the NIU website for updates.

In addition, the Governor’s Work Group on Medicaid Reform also is scheduled to release its report on how the state can achieve the target $2.7 billion in Medicaid cuts in FY 2013. If this level of cuts to Medicaid is not achieved, there likely will be further cuts to existing state programs and services, including higher education. At this point, with the House spending caps, higher education already will have to cut 5.29 percent from its FY2012 appropriations.

The Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) and the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) Student Advisory Committees have invited students from community colleges, public and private colleges and universities to participate Thursday, April 19, in a Save the Monetary Award Program Day in Springfield. The House Higher Education Appropriations Committee will be hearing testimony that day from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC), which administers MAP, on its FY 2013 budget request.

ISAC sent out an email notification to nearly 183,000 MAP-eligible students last week with information about the status of this year’s MAP funding. The agency also advised that there are currently two budget proposals that would result in significantly different levels of MAP funding in FY2013. Gov. Quinn has requested a $50 million increase in MAP funding, while the House spending cuts could result in significant cuts to the program.

HB 4996, introduced by Rep. Daniel Biss, passed out of the House on March 28, by a vote of 112-0-2. This bill limits the ability of universities to re-employ annuitants.

An “affected annuitant” is defined as a person who, while receiving a retirement annuity, has been employed by a university or community college employer for more than 18 paid weeks and has received earnings in one academic year of more than 40 percent of his/her highest annual rate of earnings. If the university or college wants to employ an affected annuitant beyond this threshold, then that university or college must pay the State University Retirement System an employer contribution equal to the annuitant’s annual retirement annuity. There are certain exceptions established if an annuitant is paid from federal, foundation or trust funds. We anticipate that there may be an amendment added to this bill in the Senate.

Photo of a report cardSB 3803, introduced by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, creates the College Completion Report Card Act.

It requires IBHE and ICCB to collaborate to collect data annually for submission to the state longitudinal data system and publicly report college completion metrics.

An annual State Report Card will be required, as well as completion report cards for each institution that enrolls one or more students who receive MAP awards.

There currently are some discussions between the sponsor, the lieutenant governor’s office and the higher education community on an amendment to this bill, but it is anticipated to be considered by the full Senate before April 26.

Lightford originally introduced SB 3804 but she dropped sponsorship of the bill; it was picked up by Sen. Dan Kotowski.

It requires IBHE to collaborate with ICCB to recommend to the General Assembly a revised, statewide articulation agreement that will govern the articulation and transfer of credit between and among Illinois’ secondary and post-secondary institutions. There are a number of concerns with this legislation, and the higher education community is working with Kotowski to address these concerns.

HB 5914, introduced by Rep. Chapin Rose, prohibits public universities from hiring search committees with funds derived from state appropriations or tuition or fees charged to students. This bill passed out of the House on March 23 by a vote of 91-9-4.

The Voices section of NIU Today features opinions and perspectives from across campus. Lori Clark is director of State and Federal Relations for NIU.

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