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State

Gov. Bruce Rauner wants schools to pick up teacher pensions

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner enters the House Chamber before delivering his State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, at the Capitol, in Springfield, Ill. (Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register via AP)
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner enters the House Chamber before delivering his State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, at the Capitol, in Springfield, Ill. (Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register via AP)

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to cut $2 billion in state spending in part by shifting the employer's portion of teacher pension payments to public school districts.

The Republican unveiled his plan Wednesday as part of his proposed budget for the year that begins July 1.

The pension shift would reverse a long-standing practice of the state paying local schools' portion of pension costs. The one exception was Chicago Public Schools. The local Chicago school budget paid teacher pensions until an overhaul of education funding last summer.

Rauner would save $2 billion in state spending through the pension change and by taking health care costs out of the mix of benefits for which union employees can bargain in contract negotiations. But that must be approved by the General Assembly. The Democrats who control it likely won't go along.

Rauner's budget proposal includes $50 million for projects to eradicate deadly Legionnaires' diseases at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy.

Legionnaires' has contributed to the deaths of 13 residents of the home since 2015 and made dozens more ill. The illness has returned each year and officials say two more residents were diagnosed with the disease this week.

Legionnaires' is contracted by people who inhale vapor from infected water. Rauner said in January he would replace the plumbing system at a cost of $25 million to $30 million. In his budget address Wednesday he said a newly named task force met this week to study the best remedies.

Rauner says a $1 billion tax cut should be the top priority for this year's legislative session.

The Republican said Wednesday it could be achieved by changing the way pensions are doled out to state employees. But the pension changes are contentious and experts question whether a court would find it constitutional.

Rauner's fourth budget address included his promised plan for a phased-in cut in last year's income-tax increase. Lawmakers increased the rate from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent to help pay down the state's massive deficit. Rauner vetoed it but it was enacted anyway. Rauner says enacting pension changes would mean "a nearly $1 billion tax cut" that would allow him to "start rolling back" the rate hike.

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