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Quinn says pension panel's framework is 'positive'

Published: Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013 6:30 p.m. CDT • Updated: Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013 9:51 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO (AP) — Gov. Pat Quinn called the outline of a pension overhaul proposal floated by a bipartisan panel "positive" and "progress," but he shied away Sunday from saying whether he'd fully back it.

The so-called conference committee — a 10-member panel formed in June to come up with a solution to Illinois' nearly $100 billion crisis — is considering a framework that would, among other things, end automatic 3 percent cost-of-living increases for retirees. Increases would instead be linked to the rate of inflation.

"It appears ... that some progress is being made," Quinn told reporters after an unrelated Chicago event. "We still have to get to the finish line but I think the concepts ... are very positive indeed."

Pensions have been Quinn's top issue for two years. He's set numerous deadlines for lawmakers to come up with a plan. However, when committee members didn't meet another deadline In July, Quinn moved to halt lawmakers' pay. He also vowed not to take a paycheck himself until the problem was solved. Legislative leaders have sued Quinn over the issue, which is still playing out in the courts.

He said although some of the concepts in the plan are familiar and his own budget office is heavily involved in the committee's research, he wants to see final details of a plan before he weighs in.

Under the committee's framework, employees would contribute 1 percent less to their own retirement. However, their annual pension benefit would be based on their salary over their career, rather than on the higher amount they're making right before they retire. The changes are estimated to reduce the state's nearly $100 billion unfunded pension liability by about $18.1 billion and fully fund the retirement systems within 30 years.

Quinn said he would only support a plan that would eliminate the unfunded debt.

"If you erase the liability and make sure it doesn't happen again, that's what we're aiming for," he said.

Illinois has the worst-funded public employee pension funds in the country, largely because lawmakers voted to skip or short the state's contribution to the five retirement systems for decades.

Legislators voted to create the conference committee after failing to agree on one of two rival pension plans — one advanced by House Speaker Michael Madigan and the other by Senate President John Cullerton, both Chicago Democrats.

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Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen .

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