SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Unable to overcome a stalemate on the state’s $97 billion pension crisis, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and legislative leaders have agreed to form a bipartisan committee to hammer out a compromise and to reconvene the Legislature for another session in July.
Lawmakers are scheduled to convene Wednesday in Springfield for an initial special session called by Quinn to deal with the crisis. But Quinn’s spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson, told The Associated Press Tuesday that the governor will call another session in early July so lawmakers can continue to work on the problem.
The agreement was announced after it became clear that lawmakers would not overcome their impasse this week, and after Madigan warmed to the idea of a bipartisan committee to negotiate some form of middle ground between two rival pension reform plans that have split the House and Senate.
Madigan said Tuesday that he and Senate President John Cullerton will meet with Quinn Wednesday morning to discuss the committee. Both chambers would need to vote to establish the panel before day’s end.
“The expectation is that the (committee) will act in good faith and strike a compromise,” Madigan said after a hearing in the Capitol.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown told the AP that the House and Senate maintain their “distinct” positions over fixing the nation’s worst state pension crisis. But he said a conference committee could work by allowing lawmakers to focus on a single piece of legislation and not try to wrestle various proposals.
Cullerton said such committees have served a purpose in the past.
“It’s another way there’s nothing wrong with it it’s a way in which you can have public testimony, each chamber can physically vote on the identical bill, and you don’t have to wait for the other one to vote,” he said.
The committee was suggested by Quinn at a meeting with the legislative leaders last week. Madigan initially dismissed it, suggesting it was a way for Quinn to avoid pressuring lawmakers harder to forge a compromise.
Madigan instead pushed for another Senate vote on a House plan that would unilaterally impose pension changes on retired state workers, including increasing the retirement age. The measure received just 16 votes in the Senate during the session that ended May 31 and would need 36 votes for passage during Wednesday’s special session.
The Senate supports a union-backed plan that would give retirees options over pension benefits. Many argue it would not save the state as much money as the plan Madigan supports. However, advocates for the Senate plan argue it is more likely to survive an expected legal challenge, since negotiated retirement benefits are currently protected by the state constitution.