‘Progress’ cited in Thursday pension talks

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SPRINGFIELD —The four legislative leaders consulted with one another again in a Thursday conference call and cited continued progress toward a pension deal that could be voted on in as little as two weeks, aides said.

Details weren’t released publicly but the ongoing negotiations reportedly focused on refinements to the automatic, compounding 3-percent cost-of-living increases state retirees and retired teachers now get and on the size of the overall savings target.

Rank-and-file legislators have been told to be available in Springfield on Dec. 3 and potentially other days that week. That particular date is the day after nominating petitions are due and when lawmakers will know whether they face challengers in the March primary.

“We still have the Dec. 3 day circled on our calendars,” said Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.

“There was enough progress to keep saying there’s progress,” she said.

Phelon declined to outline any specifics of the plan being discussed, but said talks on the cost-of-living issue have used a plan proposed last spring by Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, as a general template.

Earlier this year, she proposed giving a retiree annual increases of 3 percent of an amount equal to the number of years they worked for state government, a university or Downstate and suburban school district, multiplied by $1,000.

An aide to House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, characterized the talks as productive but stressed a final deal isn’t in place to deliver to rank-and-file members.

“We’re optimistic there will be something done before the end of December. We’ve said that all along. But there’s no plan. There’s nothing solid yet to present to the members or anything at this point,” Durkin spokeswoman Vicki Crawford said. “But the talks have been very productive and are ongoing, and that’s a good thing.”

The legislative leaders are expected to resume talks again next week prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Meanwhile, the coalition of public-sector unions working to safeguard government workers’ and retirees’ pensions urged union members to be prepared next week and in the days leading up to a possible Dec. 3 session to “swamp the switchboards” of every state legislator.

“The new bill will likely have the backing of all four legislative leaders. It will blend unfair, unconstitutional elements from old, failed bills – such as cutting COLAs by one-third or more, hiking retirement ages, undermining pensions by expanding 401(k)’s and other devastating pension cuts. With the leaders’ behind this scheme, it will take everything we’ve got to stop it,” the We Are One Illinois coalition said in a statement posted Wednesday on its website. “So be prepared to give it your all.”

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