SPRINGFIELD -- Top Democrats leading a push to cut teachers' retirement benefits said they must try to get it done by early January in part because so many new lawmakers are heading to Springfield that they'd have to educate from scratch.
Following November's election and a rash of retirements, the Illinois Capitol will soon be home to about three dozen new lawmakers. They're to be sworn in Jan. 9.
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State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, told the Daily Herald editorial board Friday that getting all of them up to speed on the immensely complex debate over the state's escalating pension costs could set the effort back.
"I think it's a huge, monumental task," Nekritz said.
Though the deadline doesn't bring the same immediate consequences and tax hikes as the so-called federal fiscal cliff, the political pressure that comes with a looming deadline could be key to cutting pension costs.
"The pressure and momentum are critical in the legislative process," Nekritz said.
Teachers, state workers and their unions have pushed back hard all year against some benefit-cutting proposals, arguing the state is unfairly unloading its financial problems onto them via unconstitutional cuts to their retirements.
And a coalition of union officials is planning Monday to unveil a new set of recommendations in Chicago, but details about what might be included aren't available yet.
Aside from the benefit cuts, a proposal to have suburban and downstate schools pay more for suburban and downstate teachers' pensions remains the most controversial point of the plan. Some local officials argue the shift could cost their districts millions of dollars at a time when budgets are already tight.
State Rep. Daniel Biss, an Evanston Democrat, said he's worked to convince school officials that increased costs phased in slowly over time would help the state immensely and give districts plenty of time to plan their own finances accordingly.
"We all need to find something to give," Biss said.
"My districts need to give just like every other district," he said.
Lawmakers plan to return to Springfield Jan. 2.