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Lawmakers reach an agreement on pension problem

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013 1:16 p.m. CDT

(MCT) — Top Illinois legislators said Wednesday they've reached agreement on a plan to deal with the state's worst-in-the-nation unfunded public pension liability and expect to vote on it next week.

Details of the proposal were not immediately announced, but the four legislative leaders had been negotiating on plans to slow compounded annual cost-of-living adjustments for public employees — the biggest driver of the state's $100 billion unfunded pension liability.

Both Democratic and Republican leaders said they reached an agreement, after more than two years of discussions spurred by a continued downgrading of the state's credit rating. The debate has centered on how to reduce costs while balancing the legal protections to public employee retiree benefits laid out in the state constitution.

"There is a deal," said Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, in an email. "We are asking our members to return on Tuesday. We are going to spend the next week reviewing the plan with our caucus."

The senators will join House lawmakers, who were told Tuesday to return Dec. 3 to Springfield for a one-day session. The Dec. 3 date is politically significant because it is the day after the filing deadline for the March 2014 primary election, and lawmakers will know what competition they have.

On Tuesday, there was no mention of what House lawmakers would do in the letter sent by Speaker Michael Madigan’s chief of staff, who told members to prepare for a one-day session Tuesday. The Tuesday date is politically significant because it is the day after the filing deadline for the March 2014 primary election, and lawmakers will know what competition they have.

“We have been notified to plan on going to Springfield on Dec. 3. Most of us are making the presumption that pension reform will be on the agenda; however, few details have emerged from the meetings that are currently occurring between the four legislative leaders,” state Rep. John Anthony, R-Plainfield, said Tuesday in an emailed statement. “With that, I believe it is imperative that we arrive at a fair and equitable solution to Illinois’ pension crisis as soon as possible, and I am anxiously awaiting to see the details of the plan that emerges.”

State Rep. Kate Cloonen, D-Kankakee, said in a message left Tuesday with the Morris Daily Herald that she did not know what to expect during the special session, but the pension system still needs to protect the retirees as best as possible.

“Will we see a bill that doesn’t do anything to the retirees? I don’t think so,” she said. “ I think a bill will come to the floor that does make changes to the retirees.”

Anthony and Cloonen represent Grundy County in the Illinois House.

• Morris Daily Herald reporter Christina Chapman-Van Yperen contributed to this report.

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