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Editorial: Reform Illinois’ pensions now

Illinois Rep. Elaine Nekritz D-Des Plaines speaks reporters after House committee hearing Illinois State Capitol Sunday Jan. 6 2013 Springfield

Illinois Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Des Plaines, speaks to reporters after a House committee hearing at the Illinois State Capitol Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013 in Springfield Ill. Nekritz says since the Senate didn’t vote on assault weapons legislation, the House probably won't either during the lame duck session.(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: February 9, 2013 6:13AM



State lawmakers, this is your last chance at redemption. The lame-duck session comes to a close Wednesday morning, and so far, it’s been a total bust.

Lawmakers squandered openings on gay marriage, gun control and medical marijuana, failing to pass worthy bills.

Capping that off would be the biggest failure of all: no action on pensions.

For two years, state lawmakers have been trying to pull off a drastic pension overhaul. Legislators came up short in May and again in August. Since then, the focus has been on the January 2013 lame-duck session.

In January, we were promised, lawmakers would finally take the steps needed to save the state from its crushing $95 billion pension debt.

The moment has arrived.

Lawmakers on Tuesday should pass a pension bill sponsored by Representatives Elaine Nekritz and Daniel Biss and backed by Gov. Pat Quinn, House Republican leader Tom Cross and House Speaker Mike Madigan. It passed committee on Monday but appeared to fall short of the votes to pass the full House Monday afternoon.

After a night of lobbying, the House reconvenes Tuesday morning. The bill then must move swiftly to the Senate for a vote.

The bill would reduce the state’s unfunded pension liability by about $28 billion, or 29 percent. Though not perfect, it remains the most thoughtful blueprint we’ve seen. It inflicts pain by reducing annual-cost-of-living increases, but protects the lowest-income retirees. And unlike a bill backed by Senate President John Cullerton, this pension bill locks in guaranteed savings.

We have said the Nekritz bill is constitutionally suspect, though its sponsors can muster some compelling arguments. Despite that, it gets our backing because it is the only comprehensive bill in play. Cullerton’s bill, which passed the Senate in May, only covers two of the five state pension systems, generating only about one-third of the needed savings. Though a better bet constitutionally speaking, any bill is a gamble given protections in the state Constitution.

State legislators will only get one bite at the pension apple. On Tuesday, they should take the biggest bite possible and pass the Nekritz/Biss bill.



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