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Illinois House committee OKs pension commission

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013 3:56 p.m. CDT
(Seth Perlman STF)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn speaks to reporters in his office at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013 in Springfield Ill. Illinois' unfunded pension liability is about $96 billion. Quinn reiterated that the deficit grows by $17 million a day and failure to act will make the problem worse.(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is dumping attempts at compromise on reforming the state's $96 billion pension crisis and is proposing a commission to recommend fixes that would become law unless the Legislature rejects them.

As a House bill crumbled in the last hours of the Legislature's lame-duck session, Quinn and the legislation's sponsor offered a last-ditch pitch to create an extra-legislative commission. The committee approved the measure 7-2.

"It's time to realize under this emergency ... that we have to take an extraordinary action to help break the gridlock," the Democratic governor told the Personnel and Pensions Committee.

The change would create an eight-member commission to come up with recommendations by April 30. It could enact those reforms with a majority of five votes unless overturned by the Legislature.

Quinn likened it to a federal commission formed to close military bases or the former Compensation Review Board that determined lawmakers' salaries.

Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, began the day doubtful that she had 60 votes needed for the House to adopt her plan to require more employee contributions, freeze annual cost-of-living increases and more in finding a way to catch up on funding for four of the state's five pension systems by 2045.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, voted for the measure to move it to the floor despite serious reservations about its constitutionality and disagreed with the Democratic governor's likening the proposed commission to the former Compensation Review Board, which had a "limited" role in determining lawmaker salaries.

"This is enormous. We're talking about four pensions systems, each of which is extremely complex," Curries said. "I have the same concerns others have voiced about the inappropriate and improper delegation of authority that I take very much to heart."

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