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updated: 11/13/2013 9:29 PM

State lawmakers told to be ready for December session

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- A top aide to House Speaker Michael Madigan told Illinois lawmakers Wednesday to be ready for a special session in Springfield in December, emailing them shortly after legislative leaders met to discuss solutions to the state's $100 billion pension crisis.

Madigan chief of staff Tim Mapes told Democrats in the email to reserve time for a "possible" session beginning Dec. 3. He also asked them to "keep other days that week available." Senate President John Cullerton later sent an email to Senate Democrats, asking them to keep Dec. 3-4 open.

Voting on a pension plan isn't specifically mentioned in either email, but Madigan spokesman Steve Brown told The Associated Press that pensions were "the likely reason" that the legislature would return.

"It's a little vague but better to give some people notice than wait until the last minute," Brown said of the email.

Dec. 3 is the day after the deadline for candidates to file paperwork for the 2014 campaign, including anyone challenging incumbents. The timing is important because scheduling a vote on a divisive issue such as pension reform after the filing deadline would remove the threat for some lawmakers of a primary challenge based on their decision.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin told the AP on Wednesday that legislative leaders had made progress on bridging a gap between a $138 billion savings proposal and some lawmakers who are seeking more dramatic cost-cutting measures.

Still, any deal is on hold until the cost savings of proposed solutions can be calculated.

"I think, again, we're making progress but we're still waiting for the complete scoring," Durkin said.

Noting that three of the four legislative leaders are lawyers, Durkin said, "I'm not ready to say we're over-lawyering everything, but when you do have the dynamics we have, everyone has different personalities, strong personalities."

Ron Holmes, spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton, said in an email that Cullerton "would note that good progress is being made and the leaders plan on sitting down again soon."

Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno's spokeswoman Patti Schuh, too, said Radogno was "encouraged" by the progress being made in the leaders' discussions.

The $138 billion savings plan 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 would allow it to better withstand a certain constitutional challenge.

While Senate Democrats have continued to back the plan, the three other caucuses have supported adding more savings components.

Lawmakers adjourned their annual fall veto session last Thursday without any mention of an upcoming session. They are not scheduled to convene again until the end of January.

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