SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn has set yet another deadline for Illinois lawmakers to send him a plan to fix the state's pension mess.
On Wednesday, minutes after the House and Senate agreed to form a bipartisan, 10-member special committee to negotiate a blueprint to overhaul the massively underfunded state employee retirement systems, the governor said he wants a solution on his desk by July 9.
"They've had ample time to work on this issue," Quinn told reporters. "This is urgent. In a crisis, you don't run in place."
It's not the first time Quinn has tried to nudge the Legislature toward a solution to the $97 billion puzzle. He's been rebuffed on prior attempts, leaving potential 2014 election opponents and rank-and-file lawmakers to question his leadership style.
Senate President John Cullerton offered no promises Wednesday that the committee would meet the governor's timeline. He said it could take analysts extra time to determine how much various pension reform scenarios will save.
"Sometimes, it takes a long time," Cullerton said. "That's going to be potentially a delay."
House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, however, said the July 9 deadline shouldn't be a roadblock.
"Everybody knows the issues," Cross said. "There's nothing new. We've had blue ribbon panels. We've had task forces. We've had summits. We've had back-room meetings. We've had out-in-the-open meetings. We've have committee hearings."
Wednesday's action in the Capitol centered on the creation of a "conference committee," which will be charged with reaching a long-sought plan to address the out-of-whack pension systems covering school teachers, prison guards, lawmakers and university employees.
The panel will draft a compromise agreement that would then go back before the entire General Assembly for an up-or-down vote.
Among those on the special panel is state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington.
"Hopefully, the conferees can establish a significant level of savings that will strengthen and solidify the system and put us on the right financial footing," Brady said.
Based on their prior votes, the committee leans strongly toward support of a comprehensive plan backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan and opposed by Senate President John Cullerton and organized labor.
"The conference committee appointed today is heavily stacked against protecting retirement security for working families and seniors," said a statement from the We Are One coalition, representing unionized state workers, teachers and university employees.
The plan favored by the speaker and supported by Brady would have required employees to divert a larger share of their paycheck to their retirement account. They also would see smaller cost-of-living adjustments once they leave the job.
The committee will have to find some way of balancing the desires of those who want to save the most money against those who say the plan must be crafted to survive a court challenge.
"To pass something that's not legal is a waste of time," said state Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur.
State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, decried the $40,000 cost of Wednesday's special session.
"It goes without saying that the Democratic supermajorities could have done this prior to May 31 and spared the taxpayers the expense of this special session," Rose said. "Nonetheless, I do support the governor's call for a conference committee to settle this issue once and for all."
(L.E. Hlavach contributed to this story.)