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updated: 11/4/2013 5:01 PM

Pension deal elusive in final days of fall session

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  • In this June 18, 2013 file photo, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, speaks to lawmakers during a House committee hearing at the state Capitol in Springfield. Lawmakers say they are making progress on a deal to solve Illinoisí $97 billion pension crisis, but are not confident there will be a vote as the annual fall legislative session enters its final days beginning Tuesday.

      In this June 18, 2013 file photo, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, speaks to lawmakers during a House committee hearing at the state Capitol in Springfield. Lawmakers say they are making progress on a deal to solve Illinoisí $97 billion pension crisis, but are not confident there will be a vote as the annual fall legislative session enters its final days beginning Tuesday.
    Associated Press

  • In this June 27, 2013 file photo, Illinois state Sen. Bill Brady, left, and state Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook, shake hands before apublic pension hearing in Chicago. Lawmakers say they are making progress on a deal to solve Illinoisí $97 billion pension crisis, but are not confident there will be a vote as the annual fall legislative session enters its final days beginning Tuesday.

      In this June 27, 2013 file photo, Illinois state Sen. Bill Brady, left, and state Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook, shake hands before apublic pension hearing in Chicago. Lawmakers say they are making progress on a deal to solve Illinoisí $97 billion pension crisis, but are not confident there will be a vote as the annual fall legislative session enters its final days beginning Tuesday.
    Associated Press

  • Pat Caley, center, joins other supporters of Social Security benefits for same sex couples during a marriage equality rally Monday in Springfield. Illinois lawmakers return to the Capitol Tuesday for the final week of veto session and are expected to consider gay marriage legislation.

      Pat Caley, center, joins other supporters of Social Security benefits for same sex couples during a marriage equality rally Monday in Springfield. Illinois lawmakers return to the Capitol Tuesday for the final week of veto session and are expected to consider gay marriage legislation.
    Associated PRess

 
Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- As the Illinois Legislature's annual fall session enters its final days, lawmakers are still tinkering with possible solutions to the state's $97 billion pension crisis while advocates for same-sex marriage are pushing for a vote in the House, where the issue stalled last spring.

Legislative leaders have reported progress on bridging a gap between the $138 billion savings proposal developed in a special pension committee over the last few months and additional demands from lawmakers who want more dramatic cost-cutting. Still, any deal is on hold until savings estimates are scored by actuaries of the state's retirement systems.

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"I think there's not likely to be a vote this week," Democratic state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, of Northbrook, said, adding "leaders are committed to bringing the legislature back once there is a deal" and that talks have moved to a "different level."

Lawmakers return to Springfield on Tuesday, and could take on various issues, including a plan with tax incentives for Illinois-based companies, a measure allowing same-sex marriage in Illinois and a measure pushing stricter gun sentences.

However, progress on the state's most pressing financial issue -- the worst-funded pension system in the nation -- seemed elusive. Moody's Investors Service warned again Monday that "severe pension deficits" were "the main credit pressure on Illinois."

Lawmakers on a 10-member bipartisan panel have been weighing a plan that would save roughly $138 billion over the next three decades. It includes reducing 3 percent annual compounded cost-of-living adjustments in retirement benefits to half of the rate of inflation. It also would reduce employee contributions by 1 percent -- a concession to state employees for other sacrifices that proponents say will allow it to better withstand a certain constitutional challenge.

A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan said caucus leaders made progress on a deal, though Steve Brown wasn't aware of any other meetings scheduled for this week.

While Senate Democrats continued to back the plan, Nekritz said, "there's pressure from the other caucuses to do more."

Republicans have pushed for other savings components, including raising the retirement age.

"It's just broadening the scope of reforms," said Republican state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington. "Tinkering a little around the edges."

Madigan, too, wants a plan that saves more, Brown said. The Chicago Democrat this spring backed a plan that saved $163 billion.

Meanwhile, proponents of same-sex marriage said they're optimistic of the chances it'll come up for a vote -- and pass --this week.

The bill cleared the Senate in February, but House sponsor Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, didn't call it for a vote when session ended in May because he said he didn't have the votes. He promised to bring the issue back, after giving his colleagues the summer to think it through.

Since then, advocates have launched a more collaborative push, and received union support and backing from some church groups.

Lawmakers have refused to talk about how many votes they have, saying it's a delicate situation. But they cite recent momentum: Several lawmakers who were on the fence have said they'll vote in favor and activists have been more vocal about demanding a vote sooner.

"I'm still very hopeful," said Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat and a bill sponsor. "Every day I feel a little bit closer."

Still, opponents -- including church groups and the Illinois Family Institute -- have fought the measure aggressively, saying marriage should remain between a man and woman. Some have warned lawmakers of consequences, and a group of Chicago-area pastors has said it'll line up primary candidates to challenge legislators who vote in favor.

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