The Illinois House-Senate Committee on Pension Reform met again Friday in Chicago. Empaneled nearly two months ago, it still hasn't come up with compromise to resolve an issue that some experts say has bogged down the state's economy.
Media was not allowed in the meeting on the sixth floor of the Loop's Bilandic Building. At the end of it, one of the ten conference committee members, Senator Bill Brady of Bloomington, seemed optimistic the work was nearing an end.
"We're done asking the questions," Brady said. "We've got all the answers we need to craft a proposal that would be meaningful, constructive and would protect the interests of the people who've paid into the pensions and the taxpayers."
The bi-partisan panel is charged with writing a compromise bill to resolve differing versions of pension reform already passed by the Illinois House and Senate. The joint committee chairman also claimed progress Friday after eight weeks of numbers-crunching and negotiations.
"I think we've moved significantly from where we were at the outset of this thing which was absolute stalemate," said Senator Kwame Raoul.
Earlier this week, House Speaker Michael Madigan said he would not call his chamber back into session until he knew there were enough votes to pass the compromise bill.
"We're interested in a proposal from the conference committee but then, in the House we would do a roll call," Madigan said.
"I think the Speaker's going to have to work just as each leader's going to have to do and we're going to have to do as committee members, work our caucuses," said Brady.
The state's $100 billion pension debt is growing by an estimated $5 million a day. Economists say the liability is scaring away business and driving the state's second-highest-in-the-nation unemployment rate. Chairman Raoul still can't say when his committee would have a product to present for consideration.
"I continue to work on this, without compensation, to work on this and get it right and do it on an informed basis with actuarially sound numbers."
The conference committee will meet again next week when many lawmakers go to Springfield for state fair politics.
The meetings are in so-called subgroups of five members to keep them private. That way they don't violate the state's open meetings law.