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posted: 6/23/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Some small signs of a sense of urgency on pensions

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So, now we have another pension deadline -- this one July 9, set by Gov. Pat Quinn last week as the date for legislative action coming out of the conference committee that was the only material product of the Wednesday special session.

Can it be done? Maybe. At least there is rhetoric to suggest that all the major players -- notably Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan -- will make a serious effort. Some insiders fret that even if the conference committee manages to produce a compromise in a week, that still won't leave enough time to run the sophisticated analyses required to determine its full financial impact, especially with the first public hearing not scheduled until Thursday.

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Not that there's anything magical about July 9, of course, nor that Quinn or anyone else can do anything about it if lawmakers do miss the "deadline," like so many others they've let pass over the past two years. But with an issue so fraught with disappointment and inaction, one takes encouragement where it can be found.

Which also includes the makeup of the conference committee itself. The party affiliations are determined by statute, so the fact that it is dominated by one party -- the Democrats who control both the House and Senate -- cannot be helped. But many of the commissioners selected by leaders to assume this complex and delicate task are lawmakers who have distinguished themselves with their study and, in some cases, leadership on the issue of pensions.

They include Democrats Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook in the House and Daniel Biss of Evanston in the Senate, whose collaboration last fall produced the one viable approach to pension reform but who also have both expressed a willingness to seek compromise in the tug-of-war between their approach and the Senate's less-ambitious plan. Suburban representation on the panel also includes Republicans Rep. Darlene Senger of Naperville and Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine and Democratic Sen. Linda Holmes of Aurora.

Cullerton's selection of Biss for the committee, by the way, speaks well of the Senate president's goals and intentions, for Biss clearly represents a position contrary to that which Cullerton has pressed. Even so, it seems highly unlikely that the conference committee will eventually settle on either the House plan or the Senate plan. Rather, everyone seems to be counting on the infusion of some so-far-mystical "new ideas" to break the ideological deadlock. We live in hope.

Whether the July 9 deadline is achievable or just one more opportunity for disappointment, it at least gives lawmakers a clear and constant reminder of the urgency of settling the pension issue. In point of fact, every day that passes without a solution costs the state $17 million.

That, let's not forget, could pay for a lot of teachers or school supplies or prison guards -- and failing to get it under control could bankrupt the state and cost us all of them. In that sense, July 9 isn't the only deadline leaders should be concerned about. Every day that passes is.

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