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Article updated: 10/25/2013 10:11 AM

Nekritz uses a football term: Pension reform 'at the one-yard line'

Elaine Nekritz

Elaine Nekritz

 
Linda Holmes

Linda Holmes

 
State Sen. Bill Brady and state Rep. Elaine Nekritz shake hands before members of a bipartisan pension reform committee hold a public hearing in June in Chicago. A vote on a proposal to solve the state’s $100 billion pension crisis during the legislature’s veto session is becoming increasingly unlikely.

State Sen. Bill Brady and state Rep. Elaine Nekritz shake hands before members of a bipartisan pension reform committee hold a public hearing in June in Chicago. A vote on a proposal to solve the state's $100 billion pension crisis during the legislature's veto session is becoming increasingly unlikely.

 

Associated Press

Linda Holmes

Linda Holmes

 
David Harris

David Harris

 
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State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat who's been toward the front of the debate over teachers' and state workers' retirements for a few years now, says she's tired of using football analogies to explain how close a group of lawmakers is to an agreement.

But more people understand football than pension finance, so ...

"We really are at the one-yard line," Nekritz said. "But we've been at the one-yard line for 10 weeks."

State lawmakers took some heat this week for only briefly meeting in Springfield as a bipartisan Gang of Ten tries to put together a deal to tackle the state's $100 billion in pension debt. It's one of the state's biggest financial challenges at a time when Illinois is infamously broke, so there's plenty of frustration about the lack of a resolution.

Clearly, Nekritz would like to find the end of this thing. But the delay of game is spent looking for the right play to call. (My football clichés, not hers.)

In May, lawmakers left Springfield without a new pension law at least in part because there were two options, and they clashed over which one to pick.

Nekritz said the goal is for the committee of 10 lawmakers to come up with a deal that is presented as the only option and approved by House and Senate leaders of both parties.

"Here's your option, exactly," she said.

The legislature has only three more days scheduled in session this year, Nov. 5-7. If a proposal is rushed out that isn't fully vetted and it fails, everything might have to start from scratch.

Looking for the union stamp

Not everyone will like an eventual deal. A draft proposal would reduce the annual cost-of-living increases for teachers' and state workers' pension benefits.

Union leaders have not agreed to that plan, and state Sen. Linda Holmes, an Aurora Democrat, said that's a problem.

Workers' deal with the state to get retirement benefits is a contract, and workers should have a say when the contract changes, she said.

"It needs to be agreed on by all parties of the contract," she said.

Give and take

A lot of people agreed with Holmes in May and still do, so a final resolution probably can't look too much like any previous proposal if it's going to be approved.

"All sides have compromised significantly from even where we were in May," Nekritz said.

Tick-tock

New House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs said this week delays can also complicate things politically. When lawmakers begin their session next year, they'll face having to make a budget that starts with a $3 billion or so hole because the 2011 tax increase expires in January 2015, the middle of their next budget year.

"If we don't get pensions done within a reasonable amount of time, it's going to get caught up with the budget process, but also it's going to get caught up with the gubernatorial politics," Durkin said.

Could the increased attention of the 2014 election help?

"I want it over with," Durkin said.

One for the other

Gov. Pat Quinn (unsuccessfully) cut lawmakers' pay over their pension stalemate, but this week, state Rep. David Harris introduced legislation to cut the budget for Quinn's office by $1 million, or about 20 percent. Quinn is already declining his salary, so where would a cut like that come from?

"That's his problem," the Arlington Heights Republican said.

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