SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn's probable primary challenger called today for the Chicago Democrat to begin holding marathon talks with lawmakers to fix the state's massively underfunded pension systems.

Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, who is planning to run against Quinn in next year's Democratic primary election, said during an appearance in Chicago that there is no time to delay fixing the state employee retirement systems.

Quinn shrugged off Daley's proposal.

"We have had meetings galore. There's always going to be people on the sidelines sniping away," the governor told reporters at an unrelated event in Chicago.

But even if Quinn were inclined to take Daley's advice, a number of top legislators are not immediately available.

A contingent of lawmakers from the Senate is leaving the country on a tour of China, despite the fact that Quinn has stripped them of their legislative pay in order to pressure them to work faster on pension reform.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, was not immediately available, either.

"The Senate President is unavailable today, but he will be back in town before the end of the work week," spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said in an email.

For years, lawmakers have been unable to agree on a way to begin chipping away at a system that is underfunded by an estimated $97 billion.

A special committee is conducting meetings designed to forge a compromise that could include reducing benefits to current retirees or increasing the amount of money contributed by current employees. If they arrive at a compromise, lawmakers are expected to return to the Statehouse to sign off on the deal.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, issued a letter calling for judges to be included in any pension system overhaul. A number of recent reform efforts have left the Judges Retirement System out of the mix.

"I acknowledge that some take the position that a conflict arises for judges of the Supreme Court who would hear this case in the event of a constitutional challenge," Brady wrote. "I would respond that judges are men and women of integrity and the implication that their decision may be swayed by their personal financial interests does them a disservice."

Brady, who represents thousands of schoolteachers, university employees and retirees who would be affected by any changes, has consistently voted against pension reform efforts.

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