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May 31, 2013
By: Mike Riopell

SPRINGFIELD – If lawmakers adjourn before their midnight deadline today without a deal to try to curb the state’s $100 billion in pension costs, it’ll be their second straight year facing a summer of gridlock after months of debate.

Their options to avoid such a stalemate today are few. State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat and leader on the issue, said this morning that she’s waiting to see what will happen in the next several hours just like other lawmakers.

“I’m in that camp,” she said.

The Illinois Senate handily rejected a package of pension benefit cuts favored by the Illinois House. And the House let the Senate’s favored plan die Thursday night without a vote.

“Truly, I’m angry,” said state Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat. She wants House Speaker Michael Madigan to call the Senate’s union-backed pension plan for a vote.

“Don’t purport that this is the Senate’s fault,” she said. Bush voted against the House’s benefit cuts.

Gov. Pat Quinn is meeting with Senate lawmakers, particularly freshmen, to try to get them to change their minds. But Thursday’s defeat was decisive.

Meanwhile, a Senate committee has approved legislation shifting the state’s university and community college pension costs onto the schools. It heads to the Senate floor and could save the state $18 million in its first year.

But the state’s annual payment is nearing $7 billion in the coming years, so those savings are paltry in comparison.

State Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat, is already calling on Gov. Pat Quinn to keep lawmakers in Springfield past their Friday deadline in an attempt to hash out a solution.

“If the governor believes what he says about the necessity of pension reform, inaction on his part borders on negligence,” Franks said in a statement.

That idea is fraught with political and legal problems, though.

Starting Saturday, legislation that would take effect immediately would require a three-fifths vote, not a simple majority. Supporters of any pension plan have a hard enough time lining up a majority, so 60 percent is nearly out of the question.

Lawmakers could delay when the legislation would take effect, but doing that might delay a court challenge by six months or more and in turn delay when the Illinois Supreme Court would rule whether any benefit cuts are legal.

Nekrtiz said that given the Illinois Senate’s strong rejection of her proposal Thursday, she’d be open to an idea proposed by Senate President John Cullerton that would have lawmakers approve two competing plans. That would, in theory, let the courts strike one down plan and let the other stand.

Showing the immense legal complexities of the debate, Nekritz said she’d only go along if the two plans were approved in separate legislation, not in one bill.

“That’s something that I think we should consider,” she said.

Copyright 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc.

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