Progress in Illinois pension reform talks

Illinois lawmakers, working without pay during a special session, may be creeping closer to in their efforts to strike a deal to reform their state pension system, which is facing the biggest shortfall of any state.

Lawmakers have been trying for two years to try to fix the pension system, which faces an unfunded liability of $100 billion. That represents 57 cents for every dollar needed.

WBBM radio in Chicago this week reported that that a bipartisan committee of both houses of the Assembly was making progress, albeit slowly.

“What I think you’re seeing is some frustration that the conference committee – the bipartisan bicameral conference committee – is not making as rapid process as I think that many would like, and I would agree with that,” Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Democrat, told the station. “But the fact is we are making progress, and everybody at that table … remain very committed to getting something significant done.”

Nekritz is House Speaker Michael Madigan’s point person on pension reform.

The 10-member committee includes five members of the House, and five members of the Senate – six Democrats and four Republicans – and has been working since mid-June to hammer out a compromise on pension reform.

For the first time, all four caucuses are agreeing on some pension reform measures, WBBM reported.

“We are all coming together in good faith, and negotiating, and these negotiations are very delicate,” Nekritz told the station. “But this is the first time that all four caucuses have been at the table, agreeing on anything with regard to the pension situation.”

While battles over public pensions are raging from Rhode Island to California, the issues in each state are largely similar -- and solutions have been elusive. 

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn in July ordered lawmakers’ salaries to be withheld until they reach a deal on the pensions during a special session. Lawmakers have filed a lawsuit over the governor’s move.

The Illinois pension fund consumes 20 percent of state revenues. The money used to shore up the fund is being paid out at the cost of reduced services.

In June, Moody’s lowered the state’s credit rating to A3 from A2. Illinois now stands dead last in the eyes of the three big credit-rating agencies, including Fitch’s and Standard & Poor’s. The lowered rating increases the cost of borrowing, worsening the state’s fiscal problems.




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