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Illinois Pension Reform: State Lawmakers Say They'll Miss July 9 Deadline For Compromise

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ILLINOIS PENSION REFORM
Illinois Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, during a Senate Executive Committee hearing at the Illinois State Capitol Monday, May 20, 2013, in Springfield Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) | AP


CHICAGO, July 3 (Reuters) - An Illinois legislative committee charged with devising a compromise plan to rein in the state's huge unfunded public pension liability will not meet a July 9 deadline set by Governor Pat Quinn, the committee's chairman said on Wednesday.

State Senator Kwame Raoul, who heads the 10-member, bipartisan conference committee, said actuarial studies of various proposals, including recent ones submitted by Quinn, will take more time.

"It's not as easy as flipping a switch and this thing is over and we have a consensus and we can put something to the General Assembly for a vote," Raoul told reporters following the committee's second public meeting.

He also said Quinn's office had just delivered his own pension reform plan to committee members. He offered no details, and Raoul said Quinn has asked for an actuarial appraisal of savings that might result from that plan.

Brooke Anderson, the governor's spokeswoman, would say only that the committee had been provided with all the data and information it needed to fix the problem.

After the morning meeting, the conference committee split in half in order to meet privately without violating Illinois' open meeting law. The entire committee is scheduled to meet again on Monday in the state capitol.

The governor is sticking with a July 9 deadline, by which he has asked the legislature to deliver a pension reform plan for his signature, according to Anderson. "This is an emergency," she said. "Every day legislators come up with another excuse on why they can't get their job done is another day that taxpayers are on the hook for millions of dollars."

She declined to comment on what the governor would do if the deadline were missed.

At the two meetings since the conference committee was formed on June 19, the panel has heard from unions, business groups, state universities and others on how to tackle Illinois' nearly $100 billion unfunded pension liability.

It was unclear how the committee would deal with the problem, given strong protections in the Illinois Constitution for retirement benefits. The Democrat-controlled legislature reached an impasse during its spring session, which ended May 31, after the House speaker and Senate president supported disparate approaches to pension reform.

The continued inability of Illinois lawmakers to fix the worst-funded state retirement system, along with a structural budget deficit, have combined to pull the state's bond ratings down the credit scale to the lowest levels among U.S. states.

Ballooning annual payments for the five pension funds are squeezing out funding for core state services like education and health care.

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