Mt. Vernon Register-News

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January 2, 2013

$275M more for Illinois roads available, OK is part of Legislature's final days

(Continued)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. —

The road funding bump would buffer an otherwise disappointing drop in transportation-improvement money from the 2012 budget year. Even with additional concrete, however, overall spending would still represent a 17 percent reduction from the previous construction season.

A Transportation spokesman did not have immediate comment about the plan Tuesday.

According to the summary provided to senators, the bulk of the extra money is $175 from the federal government from a revised funding formula that was part of the national transportation plan approved last summer and $110 million by restricting "diversions" from the road fund to other state expenses.

Quinn has made Jan. 9 — the official end of the current General Assembly — the deadline for coming up with a solution to the nation's most underfunded state-employee pension system. The $96 billion debt in five retirement programs grows by $17 million daily, he says. He wants "comprehensive pension reform that fixes the problem," spokesman Abdon Pallasch said.

But Chicago Democrat Cullerton, the Senate president, is promoting a measure his chamber adopted last spring that reduces retirement benefits just for lawmakers and state employees. He believes that gives officials a starting point to test the law's constitutionality and bypasses for now the contentious question about whether local school districts should have to pay a share of teacher pensions.

Like Quinn, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, prefers a comprehensive solution, "but that hasn't worked out, so we're ready to take on other approaches," spokesman Steve Brown said.

The best bet for an all-inclusive approach is one put forth by rank-and-file legislators in November. It would mean higher employee contributions and reduced benefits, but backers say it would put an immediate $30 billion dent in the unfunded liability.

"There's a lot of interest in getting something done and there's a lot of momentum, but I don't think we're there yet," said one of the plan's leaders, Rep. Daniel Biss, an Evanston Democrat.

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