Mt. Vernon Register-News

State News

November 26, 2013

GOP leaders: Illinois pension fix could come soon

CHICAGO — — The top two Republicans in the Illinois Legislature said Tuesday they're hopeful their Democratic counterparts will soon have a plan to address the state's $100 billion pension crisis — a fix that could get a vote next week if enough lawmakers signal they will vote yes.

House GOP leader Rep. Jim Durkin and Senate GOP leader Sen. Christine Radogno said Tuesday that they and the Legislature's top two Democrats have been tinkering with a proposal and talking with lawmakers to see what they are willing to support. The four leaders were scheduled to meet again late Tuesday afternoon.

"What we're trying to do now by putting this together is make sure that we have the votes to get the thing passed," Radogno said following a meeting of the City Club of Chicago.

The chief of staff for House Speaker Michael Madigan has told representatives to be at the Capitol Dec. 3, and a committee hearing also has been scheduled for Monday afternoon. Senate President John Cullerton also has told senators to be prepared to meet next week, though he has not yet called his members back — an indication that he has not yet signed off on a pension deal.

Illinois has the nation's worst-funded public pension systems, largely because for years the state didn't make its full contributions to the accounts. But lawmakers have repeatedly failed to come up with a solution, even as the payments took up more and more of the state budget and credit rating agencies downgraded Illinois' rating.

The 2014 election brings additional pressure. If the Legislature doesn't act, lawmakers seeking re-election will have to explain to voters why the long-festering issue still isn't resolved.

Gov. Pat Quinn said Tuesday the possible special session is another opportunity to tackle the state's most pressing financial issue.

"I sure hope we can break the gridlock," the Chicago Democrat told reporters after an unrelated event. "We may need a crowbar to do it, but if we can get it done and voted next week that would really be progress for the people of Illinois."

The details of the plan so far have not been publicly released, though it's believed to save the state about $150 billion over the next 30 years, in part by cutting the benefits for public employees and retirees.

But legislators also have acknowledged the lack of public discussion is part of a strategy to minimize the amount of time that opponents — namely, public employee labor unions — have to mobilize against it.

Several lawmakers said Tuesday they're not concerned that legislators may be asked to vote on a plan after potentially having only days — or hours — to review it.

Quinn said there's been "ample discussion over the past two years" and that the issues are well known "to just about anybody who's paying attention."

Radogno agreed there won't be a lot of surprises. So did Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat and Madigan's point person for pensions in the House.

"There's only so many things we can do in addressing this crisis," she said. "It might be packaged a little differently, but it's not going to look dramatically different than what we've seen in the past."

 

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