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Quinn unhappy that pensions may wait until next year

SPRINGFIELD – The chances of quick action on Illinois' pension problems are growing slimmer.

Gov. Pat Quinn said Friday that he believes a pension overhaul can be passed by the end of the legislative session, which isn't until January. The Democratic governor wants action "as soon as possible," but nothing in his remarks suggested he expects that to happen this fall.

"I'm optimistic we will, by the end of this legislative session, get fundamental pension reform. It's absolutely imperative for the people of Illinois, for the common good," Quinn said after an appearance in Chicago.

His comments came a day after Senate President John Cullerton said he doesn't expect a pension vote until January, when legislative rules mean passage requires fewer votes. That would also be after the fall elections but before new legislators are sworn in.

"The earliest we can pass pension reform as a practical matter is Jan. 1," Cullerton told the Chicago Tribune editorial board. House Speaker Michael Madigan has hinted at the same timetable.

Officials want to reduce retirement benefits for public employees to limit growth in the state's annual pension contribution. This year it's $5 billion. Quinn and the legislative leaders seem to agree on the broad outlines of a new plan, but they disagree over whether downstate and suburban Chicago school districts should start paying the employer's share of staff pension costs.

Democratic leaders want to shift that expense to schools, while Republicans say that would lead to property tax increases.

Quinn said a pension overhaul is vital to making the best use of the state's limited money.

"We cannot just put all our taxpayer money in a pension piggy bank for government employees and have not enough money for students and for our public safety officers, people who do important things in our life," he said.

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the governor doesn't plan to call lawmakers back to Springfield for a special session on pension, as he did last month without any success. There's no point in another session until top officials agree on a plan that can win approval, she said.

She said the governor is trying to arrange another meeting with legislative leaders. And Quinn still plans to launch a statewide campaign soon to build popular support for a pension overhaul and increase pressure on legislators, she said.

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Associated Press writer Jason Keyser contributed to this report from Chicago.

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