SPRINGFIELD — Despite significant skepticism from some lawmakers, one of the lead negotiators of an effort to overhaul the state’s public employee pension mess said Sunday there is still enough time to hammer out a deal before a Wednesday deadline.
State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, said she expects a still-unfinished compromise to be heard in a House committee Monday afternoon, with an eye on getting the measure out of the House and into the Senate for a vote on Tuesday.
“I certainly, to my core, hope for a resolution to this,” Nekritz said. “As much as anybody, I hope to move on to different issues than this.”
The House met Sunday as part of a last-minute attempt to fix the state’s five massively underfunded pension systems, which provide retirement benefits for former teachers, prison workers, university employees and other public sector workers.
The deadline for action in the House is Tuesday because any agreement still would need a vote in the Senate. A new General Assembly is sworn in at noon Wednesday.
“There is enough time to get it done,” Nekritz told reporters gathered at the Capitol.
Not everyone was as optimistic.
“I’m skeptical of the time that is left to do something,” said state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington.
Although there are numerous plans floating through the Statehouse, a final proposal is expected to call for reductions in annual cost-of-living increases for state retirees and higher contributions from current employees.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, removed a major roadblock when he agreed to drop his demand that local school districts pick up a portion of the pension costs.
“We are continuing to push ahead to see if there’s a compromise and a consensus that can be reached that will allow a vote to be held in both the House and the Senate,” Nekritz said.
Brady said he won’t support a plan that doesn’t include all five state pension systems, including the system covering judges.
“I can’t ask teachers or General Assembly members of state university employees not to have to do the same thing as judges out. That’s non-negotiable,” Brady said.
A coalition of unions, meanwhile, continues to push back against the pension overhaul efforts, suggesting that any cuts to pensions would violate the state’s Constitution.
“If the General Assembly rams through last-minute legislation that violates the Illinois Constitution, we are prepared to sue to protect the hard-earned benefits of teachers, caregivers, corrections officers, university employees and others,” according to a statement by the We are One Coalition.
State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, agreed.
“I’ve always said the unions need to be at the table,” Phelps said.
State Rep. Rich Morthland, R-Cordova, who is among more than a dozen lame-duck legislators who will not be returning to the House, said something has to be done.
“We have to stabilize the pension system. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. It’s costing the state massive amounts of money every day. Everybody knows this and even though it’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be painful, it has to happen,” Morthland said.
State Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said despite the disputes, the fiscal health of the state is at stake if nothing is done.
“We’re closer and closer to the edge of that cliff. I know that there’s a lot of people who don’t believe that, but I’m telling you, every moment we’re bleeding and we’ve got to do something,” Bost said.
L.E. Hlavach and Hannah Douglas contributed to this story.