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Public Employee Unions and Conservatives Find Themselves on Same Side of Pension Debate

Unions oppose bill because they say it goes too far. Fiscal conservatives oppose it because they say it doesn't go far enough.
SPRINGFIELD -- The pension reform bill is creating odd bedfellows to say the least.  The public employees unions hate it.  So do conservatives for completely opposite reasons.

For teachers and state workers, retired or not, pension reform creates uncertainty through no fault of their own, making them worried and angry.

After working for the state of illinois for more than 25 years, Mike Woodcox was looking forward to a relaxing retirement.  But he says the first few years have been stressful.  "I get worried about the government trying to take my retirement away."

The state's retirement systems are about a hundred billion dollars in the red, so lawmakers are looking at raising the retirement age, scaling back annual cost of living increases, and limiting how big pensions can be, changes Woodcox says are totally unfair.  "It says right in the (state) Constitution not to impede or reduce the pension of state employees.  You're reducing them down to nothing.  They might as well just go back to work."

And for retirees like Woodcox,it would mean losing out on thousands of dollars he planned on having.  "It's scary because they're messing with our livelihood."

He says he can't enjoy retirement the way he wants to because he doesn't know if his full pension is going to be there.  "It's hard. Go out and try to buy something new. You put your money away because you don't know what tomorrow's gonna bring."

Woodcox says he hopes lawmakers can find a different way to fix the finances.  Otherwise, there could be even more problems down the road.  "You keep messing with the pensions you aren't gonna get the cream of the crop. They're gonna go somewhere else."

But while state retirees say this bill goes too far -- many others say it doesn't go far enough.  Like the conservative Illinois Policy Institute, which believes there is no way the state can afford this pension deal without a tax increase.  "This bill, is a lot of smoke and mirros," says Ted Dabrowski.  "It talks a lot about colas and retirement ages, but when you strip it all down, it only reduces the pension shortfall,  The hundred billion shortfall to about eighty billion max, and so therefore it's not enough savings, this is not a good deal for the state, and it will continue to keep illinois mired in the pension crisis."

The irony is that if the bill doesn't fix the problem, pensions like Woodcox's will be at even greater risk for either more cuts or insolvency.  In the end, everyone has a reason to get pension reform right.
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