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Editorial: Big meeting must matter

Updated: March 2, 2013 12:04PM

When Illinois Senate President John Cullerton sits down on Friday with a powerful member of the business community, he will be meeting with the head of a group that he says is a major player, perhaps even an obstacle, to confronting the state’s biggest problem: ballooning pension costs.

For the sake of the state of Illinois, it better be a productive meeting.

Cullerton told the Sun-Times editorial board on Thursday of the meeting with Ty Fahner, head of the Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago, as we discussed the causes of gridlock in Springfield.

After years of talk, we wanted to know, why is there is no real action to cut the state’s public pension costs?

One major reason is the influence of groups that play no official role in Springfield — groups like the Civic Committee and the state’s unions.

Cullerton, for example, says he can’t get House Minority Leader Tom Cross on board with his favored pension cost-cutting plan because Cross is being on leaned by the Civic Committee, which says the plan doesn’t save enough money.

Cross and Republicans, Cullerton said, “are getting pressure from people like Ty Fahner saying: Vote no. . . . You’ve got to save more.”

Is Cullerton overstating the group’s influence? Perhaps. And does Cross deny that he’s unduly influenced by the Civic Committee? Of course. And, to be fair, Cross has been pushing pension reform for years (plus we share his concern that Cullerton’s plan, though likely more constitutionally sound, doesn’t guarantee enough savings).

Cross’ spokeswoman pointed to powerful forces pushing the other way: “We could say the unions have too much influence and that’s why there aren’t as many changes in [Cullerton’s] bill but that’s not productive,” she said.

Fahner tells us he asked for the meeting to discuss the costs savings in Cullerton’s bill and a competing one advanced by Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Democrat, which produces greater savings. Fahner supports the Nekritz bill.

As an alternative, Cullerton has drawn up a promising bill that includes both his plan and Nekritz’s and essentially lets the courts decide which is constitutional.

Fahner said he’ll share his views on that bill and offer Cullerton some “ideas that I think could help him reach an agreement.”

Friday’s session may just be another meeting in a series of endless meetings.

We hope not. Something has to give. Somebody has to budge.

Or everybody’s just wasting time.

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