Illinois state Rep. Elaine Nekritz doesn't expect lawmakers to act on pension reform until after the Nov. 6 general election, though Gov. Pat Quinn said they should be ready to return to Springfield this summer to work on the contentious issue.
"It's not ideal," Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat and a member of the governor's pension reform committee, said of the prospect of politics delaying the issue until after the election.
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However, "I feel that on May 30, we were so close to having a real piece of legislation. And so, if it gets done in a lame-duck session ... it will get done because it's the right thing to get done," she told the Daily Herald editorial board.
Quinn and top legislative leaders have planned to meet again in August to try to hash out an agreement on pensions. On Monday, he warned lawmakers should be ready to return to Springfield.
"Summertime is a good time to act, and so the legislators have to be on their toes here that this is a matter that is confounding our state for decades, and it must be resolved, now," he remarked during an appearance at Soldier Field in Chicago to sign a law on veterans tax credits.
Lawmakers are trying to find a compromise that will ease the state's pension costs but is likely to cost suburban schools more by shifting the state's future pension expenses onto local schools. The proposal has put House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, at odds with House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego, who argues that placing a bigger burden on suburban schools is a "poison pill" that could kill pension legislation altogether.
"There's enough responsibility to go around on this one," Nekritz said of Republicans' accusations. "I find it a little curious that while Madigan's being blamed for digging his heels in on the cost shift, Cross has equally dug his heels in on no cost shift. Both seem at this point unwilling to come off their point of view."
Lawmakers also are considering cutting back pensioners' cost of living increases, raising the retirement age and increasing employee contributions, making it a difficult vote in the months immediately preceding the election.
Still, Nekritz said, she believes progress is being made, noting, "I have to think Mike Madigan and (Senate President) John Cullerton don't spend 15 hours a week sitting through meetings only to think it's going to blow up at the end."
Nekritz pointed out no matter when a pension deal is reached, it's unlikely to take effect before July 1, 2013, because heads of the state's retirement systems have urged lawmakers to stick to the fiscal year.
Nekritz's opponent in the 57th District, Republican Jonathan Greenberg of Northbrook, called her predictions "pretty pathetic."
"I think this is pretty typical behavior by the folks in Springfield," he said. "I'm sure what they're planning to do is come back in veto (session) when they're as far from as election as they can possibly be."