The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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June 28, 2013

Pension panel's 1st hearing has familiar testimony


Members of the committee said it was more important to come up with an actuarially sound plan than meet Quinn’s deadline and that they wouldn’t be wedded to either the Cullerton or Madigan plans.

Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat who has been involved in pension talks for years, said the committee was a chance to set a “factual foundation” and if Quinn wanted the group to meet earlier, he should have instructed them to do so.

“I hope we can hear from folks who are willing to help us get beyond that and not retreat back to our respective corners,” she told committee members. “We need to be cognizant of the urgency of that and still change our mindsets, and that’s not easy to do.”

She and others said it was encouraging to see lawmakers on both sides at the same table, at least listening to the issues — something they said might finally lead to a solution after years of inaction.

Illinois has roughly $98 billion in unfunded pension liability because legislators skipped or shorted payments to state retirement funds for years. While no one disagrees that it’s the state’s most pressing problem, lawmakers adjourned the spring legislative session again last month without a deal, making it the fifth time in a year that they’ve left town without solving the problem.

That dissidence was still evident at Thursday’s hearing with back-and-forth among committee members about their exact mission and how to proceed.

State Sen. Bill Brady, a Republican who announced his gubernatorial bid this week, questioned why the committee didn’t have an exact plan.

“I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t make more progress,” he said after the hearing.

It was also clear from the testimony how deeply the issue has divided interest groups.

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