What's holding up pension reform in Illinois?

October 14, 2013 (CHICAGO)

As Gov. Pat Quinn worked the room at the Southland Chamber Of Commerce luncheon, the state's $100 billion unfunded pension debt was on his mind.

"It's a matter of highest concern for everybody in Illinois," Gov. Quinn said.

Eight days before the fall veto session, the general Assembly's Pension Reform Conference Committee, which was formed last June, still has not drafted a bill to resolve the debt.

"I've worked with the members of the committee and I respect them all but it's time now for them to come up with their final bill so it can be voted on," Quinn said.

Sources said the conference committee is divided along party lines. Democrats are more sensitive to the cost increases and benefit cuts to teachers and other unionized public workers while Republicans want more employee contributions and sacrifice in the reform bill.

"Whatever reform we do shouldn't be solely on the backs of people who didn't do anything wrong," Sen. Toi Hutchison, (D) Olympia Fields, said.

"My personal feeling is that it needs to go further so we don't return in 10 years or 15 years," Jim Durkin, (R) Illinois House minority leader, said.

One reform committee Democrat will not support proposals under consideration because she says they don't go far enough to protect workers.

"I don't know that I can support something if I really don't believe in it," Sen. Linda Holmes, (D) Aurora, said.

The pension debt, and the possibility of higher taxes to pay for it, is blamed in part for Illinois having second-highest unemployment rate in the nation.

"To help our economy, to help our jobs is to resolve this $100 billion liability," Quinn said.

For a pension reform bill to pass during veto session and become effective immediately would require a super majority. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin is doubtful.

"It has to be a bill that has long range savings and one that's not going to have any additional burden on taxpayers in Illinois," Durkin said.

Lawmakers hope to see a draft of a bill later this week. A major concern is that next week, a week off, and three days in November will not be enough time to consider such a complicated issue.

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