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Real pension reform won’t be negotiated at public meetings

Members will get more done behind scenes

It’s one week down and about a week to go for lawmakers on the pension conference committee to reach a compromise and put it on Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk by his July 9 deadline.

The committee had a public hearing last week that droned on for more than 4 hours. It was ear opening for anyone who’s been asleep the last 2 years and isn’t aware that the state has this little pension funding problem going on. Other than that, it was mainly a case of “been there, heard that.”

That is, the public part of the hearing largely fell into that category. What we don’t know for sure is what is going on behind the scenes.

Committee chairman Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said committee members have been talking among themselves and would continue to do so. That’s a good thing. A pension reform bill isn’t going to get hashed out in a public hearing. Trying to do that would pretty much guarantee nothing will happen.

Negotiating in private is what’s led to the only real movement seen so far on pension legislation. The House reform plan was largely drafted by a couple of dozen House members working on their own and without the benefit of public hearings. Same for the Senate plan that was negotiated with public employee unions in private before it was written into a bill.

In both cases, public hearings were held after the plans were drafted, but before lawmakers voted.

The committee will hold another public hearing Wednesday that may provide a better indication of what kind of progress, if any, is being made. Hopefully, progress is being made, because the clock is ticking quickly toward July 9.

RAOUL DID MAKE it clear that it’s time to move beyond the House and Senate plans, each of which passed one chamber but not the other.

“We’ve reached impasse with regard to those two proposals,” he said.

So, no more votes on the House plan in the Senate, which has already rejected it twice. And no votes on the union-backed Senate plan in the House, which can’t be good news for the unions who said they’re done negotiating and see the solution as a House vote on the Senate plan.

That will leave the door open to the classic definition of a compromise, which is something hated by everyone.

He said it

“We heard a lot of speeches all over the place for a very long time on pensions. Every legislator knows the nature of the problem. We don’t need to hear more speeches from a lot of people here or anywhere else on this issue.”

– Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, after sitting through 4½ hours of testimony at the pension conference committee hearing that mainly covered old ground.

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