SPRINGFIELD -- As lawmakers Wednesday formed a new committee to debate ways to cut the state's nearly $100 billion in pension debt, they'll try to prove this new panel will somehow differ from any of the previous ones.
After all, many of the names involved are the same.
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The suburban architects of a large package of pension benefit cuts have been named to the 10-member panel: Democratic state Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook and Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston, as well as Republican Rep. Darlene Senger of Naperville.
So, too, has state Sen. Linda Holmes, an Aurora Democrat and early supporter of a competing union-backed plan that gives workers a choice between retirement or health care cuts.
Those two competing plans have been at the root of gridlock on the issue all year. The panel represents both sides, and members will be tasked -- once again -- with finding a compromise lawmakers can send to Gov. Pat Quinn.
"The conference committee doesn't change the dynamic that much," Nekritz said.
Holmes, too, acknowledged the continuing difference of opinion, noting that the plan backed by Nekritz "dramatically failed" in a Senate vote just a few weeks ago. But, she said, she'll work to compromise.
"I'm certainly willing to give it a try," Holmes said.
Of the 10 members, eight have voted for the deeper set of pension cuts conceived by Nekritz and supported by House Speaker Michael Madigan, including state Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican. Two have backed the choice idea backed by Holmes and Senate President John Cullerton.
Three of the four members of a previous unofficial panel of lawmakers set up by Gov. Pat Quinn are on the committee formed Wednesday: Nekritz, Senger and Republican state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington.
That's the starting point for talks that will begin soon and could consist of both public and private meetings. Gov. Pat Quinn has set a deadline of July 9 for the panel to finish, but lawmakers have blown past his deadlines over and over without taking action.
"If by the ninth of July they haven't done their job they are really letting the people down," Quinn said after the committee was formed.
Putting together the panel was lawmakers' only action for the day in special session in Springfield, which drew the ire of some critics, who say the new legislative committee is the next in a parade of similar groups.
State Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, said lawmakers didn't need to drive to the Capitol to put a group of lawmakers together.
"It begs the question, 'Why are we here?'" Harris said. "We're putting a veneer of an official stamp on the process."
Quinn has pointed to this new committee as a sign of progress. But it's no guarantee legislation will result from this new effort and unclear whether lawmakers would sign off even if it did.
The debate will continue no matter what the form, though, as the escalating yearly payments on the state's pension debt continues to rise, sapping money from the state budget that could be used on schools, care for the disabled and other programs.
Lawmakers finished their annual session at the end of May in gridlock even though Quinn made a pension fix his top priority.
"We're no different from where we were at May 31," said state Sen. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican.
• Daily Herald Staff Writer Doug T. Graham contributed to this story.