Illinois leaders meeting to discuss pension overhaul

2013-11-21T00:00:00Z Illinois leaders meeting to discuss pension overhaulKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
November 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

SPRINGFIELD | The search for a way out of Illinois’ pension mess will continue today when the state’s legislative leaders meet in a closed-door negotiating session in Chicago.

The morning meeting could be one of the final pow-wows in the run-up to a possible vote on a pension overhaul by rank-and-file lawmakers in early December.

While nothing is formally scheduled yet, Democrats in the House have asked lawmakers to be ready to return to the Capitol on Dec. 3 in hopes an agreement can be reached on a plan to close a nearly $100 billion unfunded liability gap in the state’s employee retirement systems.

“The discussions are part of an ongoing effort to reach agreement on comprehensive pension reform,” said Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno. “They are literally rolling up their sleeves and talking through some very complex issues.”

The four leaders — Radogno, Senate President John Cullerton, House Speaker Michael Madigan and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin — began their discussions earlier this fall after a special bipartisan panel of lawmakers failed to find common ground on a solution.

The leaders have zeroed in on a number of potential fixes, including a change in the way yearly cost-of-living adjustments are calculated for pensioners.

Rather than a flat 3 percent increase each year, the COLA could be tied to the rate of inflation, potentially saving billions of dollars over the next three decades.

“They are still having conversations about the fairest way to structure (the) COLA,” Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said.

In exchange for a reduction in the worth of their benefit once retired, one scenario under discussion would lower the contribution employees currently pay into the fund.

On Wednesday, representatives of the leaders said potential savings from some of the changes were still being determined by actuaries.

“There is still that number-crunching and review that needs to go on,” Phelon said.

In addition to today’s meeting, there also could be one final meeting before the legislature returns after Thanksgiving.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker hopes to get something through the General Assembly soon so the proposal can begin winding its way through the legal system as part of what observers believe is an inevitable constitutional challenge.

“We anticipate a lengthy court battle,” Brown said.

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