By Karl Plume
CHICAGO Jan 5 A fix for Illinois' public
pension crisis remained elusive on Saturday after a meeting
between Democratic Governor Pat Quinn and legislative leaders
failed to produce a deal.
State House of Representatives Speaker Michael Madigan, a
Democrat, said that it was still possible to reach a deal in
time to be voted on early next week by the Legislature.
"There's no resolution today. We're going to continue to
work throughout the weekend and right through Tuesday of next
week to try and move legislation that will solve this funding
problem of Illinois pension systems," Madigan told reporters
following the meeting.
The House has scheduled a Sunday-through-Tuesday lame-duck
session ahead of the start of a new legislative session on
Wednesday. Quinn has been pushing the Democratic-controlled
Legislature to pass pension reforms before the new session
Illinois' finances are buckling under the weight of a huge
$96 billion unfunded pension liability that is rapidly siphoning
off money needed for essential state services such as healthcare
and public safety.
The lack of a pension fix has led to downgrades of Illinois'
credit ratings, with Moody's Investors Service warning last
month it could drop Illinois below the current A2 rating, the
lowest among the states it rates.
A potential breakthrough on a pension fix surfaced on Friday
when Quinn announced that Madigan had agreed to defer until a
later date a measure to gradually shift state payments for
teacher pensions onto local school districts. Republican
lawmakers were concerned the move would lead to local property
Madigan on Saturday said that will lead to a partial pension
fix, leaving lawmakers to deal mainly with benefit levels. The
Teachers' Retirement System, which includes educators in the
state outside of the Chicago Public Schools, is the largest of
the five state pension funds and accounts for the lion's share
of the unfunded liability.
Legislative leaders discussed a series of steps aimed at
fully funding the pension system in 30 years, including boosting
worker contributions, raising retirement ages and limiting
cost-of-living adjustments for retirees.
But differences of opinion remained about the structure and,
ultimately, the constitutionality of the bill. Public labor
union officials have warned they will go to court to fight
pension changes and they are confident they will prevail given
strong protections for pension benefits in the Illinois
" The question is can you bring these all together and get a
bill that can pass and be signed by the governor," Madigan said.
The governor did not make any statements after the meeting.
A spokeswoman said he would continue to push for a deal until
the last moments of the lame-duck session.
"We still want to see pension reform done by January 9.
We're going to be working on it every hour up until that time.
Progress has been made, but no deal yet, no solid agreement
yet," said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson.