No solution after Illinois pension summit

Updated 2/12/2013 8:11 AM
  • Illinois House Republican GOP leader Tom Cross was the only legislative leader to attend a "pension summit" in Burr Ridge Monday.

      Illinois House Republican GOP leader Tom Cross was the only legislative leader to attend a "pension summit" in Burr Ridge Monday. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Union leaders Monday used a "pension summit" in Burr Ridge to once again call on top Illinois lawmakers to negotiate with them over changes to teachers' and state workers' retirement benefits.

State lawmakers have been gridlocked on the issue for more than a year, arguing about how best to curb Illinois' rising pension costs. As retirement costs go up, the state has less money for other things.

Union leaders have opposed major cuts to benefits, saying their members didn't cause the state's financial problems.

"Our summit's purpose today was to move cooperatively toward an agreed pension funding solution," read a statement from the We Are One Illinois union coalition. "We had a discussion with Governor Pat Quinn, representatives from all legislative caucuses, and key stakeholders. In doing so, our union coalition demonstrated our ability to work together constructively with all parties."

The meeting was attended by Gov. Pat Quinn and House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego, but the state's top Democratic legislative leaders sent surrogates.

"There wasn't a lot to come out of this," Cross said.

"I felt like it was important to be there," he added.

House Speaker Michael Madigan said late last month he wouldn't attend. And the powerful Democrat sought to quiet union complaints that labor leaders hadn't been included in talks.

"I recall no fewer than eight high-level meetings that took place with labor, legislative leaders and the governor," Madigan wrote in a letter. "At that time, I felt there was little willingness from representatives of labor to draft a comprehensive, common-sense solution."

There's no timetable for lawmakers to start debating competing pension reform proposals again. The Illinois Senate meets this week starting Wednesday.

Cross said he and state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, could debut a new proposal "soon" that would be similar to previous ideas they'd worked on.

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