New day, new lawmakers, same Ill. pension fight

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 9, 2013 at 10:04 am •  Published: January 9, 2013
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Not so fast, Democrats said. Nekritz and her allies claim progress and will introduce fresh legislation similar to their abandoned plan after being sworn in to new terms. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said he will again offer a version of his proposal, which he says is the only constitutional idea in the building because it doesn't take away promised benefits without offering recipients choices.

Quinn warned that missing his deadline means bond rating agencies will downgrade Illinois' credit as early as Wednesday. The governor told lawmakers that without action, the state's credit worthiness is in "dire jeopardy."

"Public pension reform is absolutely necessary if Illinois is going to have sound financial footing once and for all," he said.

Wednesday will be filled with pomp and patriotic bunting; lawmakers wearing corsages will take oaths, accept congratulatory hugs from parents, spouses and children, and snack on cookies and punch.

There will be little to remind anyone of the lame-duck session that began a week earlier with sky-high expectations of sending Quinn bills not only to reform pensions, but also to legalize gay marriage and put restrictions on assault weapons and their fast-feeding ammunition devices.

Gay marriage got a Senate committee OKs, as did gun control, but Democratic sponsors did not move those pieces of legislation to the Senate floor despite a Democratic majority.

Lawmakers produced a proposal that Quinn plans to sign allowing illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses, but nothing was heard of other measures that were in line for lame-duck consideration, including medical marijuana and expanded casino gambling.

The pension problem, Quinn noted, goes back decades. Years of inattention by lawmakers and governors to properly fund state-run pension accounts caused the situation. Without reducing costs, catching up means the state's annual payment will continue to eat up money that would otherwise go for schools, health care and public safety.

Sen. Daniel Biss, an Evanston Democrat who was Nekritz's pension-plan partner and House colleague until he was sworn in early to his new job Monday, said they're ready to keep talking — even if it means starting from scratch with newcomers and facing a new slate of issues.

"We'll learn as we work with these new members what those issues are," Biss said, "and we hope it will be easier."

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Online:

The bill is SB1673.

Illinois General Assembly: http://www.ilga.gov .

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Associated Press writers Sophia Tareen and Regina Garcia Cano contributed to this report.

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Follow John O'Connor at https://www.twitter.com/apoconnor .