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Time to move to heart of stunt: pension reform

Gov. PQuinn  |  Sun-Times files

Gov. Pat Quinn | Sun-Times files

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Updated: November 1, 2013 6:10AM

Gov. Pat Quinn wants to milk his bid to withhold legislators’ pay for as long as humanly possible.

Not surprising. It was an excellent stunt — withholding pay until timid lawmakers cut state employee pension costs.

But on Friday Quinn lost two more rounds in court, significantly decreasing the odds that he will prevail.

The circus value on this is nearly tapped out. And like Quinn himself, we’d like to turn to the long-awaited pension cost-cutting plan that is due from a special legislative committee. That bipartisan group has been at work, constructively, all summer long.

The basics of a cost-cutting plan were agreed upon by the committee weeks ago — relying largely on reducing retiree cost-of-living annual increases, which is where the real savings potential lies.

But the committee can’t get over the finish line.

The big snag, we understand, is a new list of demands unveiled by committee Republicans two weeks ago and a new total savings target — $150 billion, up from an agreed-upon $140 billion. We want more savings, too, but what’s maddening is that most of the Republican demands don’t amount to much.

They’re pressing for things like raising the retirement age, raising the employee contribution and creating a 401(k) option. Those sound good but would barely move the cost-savings needle.

Their demand to reduce the COLA further is worth considering. And the Republicans should reconsider a big savings idea they’ve unwisely rejected: shifting from the state to local school districts the costs of employee pensions over time.

Instead, the Republicans seem to be stuck on easy symbolism. They want to look tough by inflicting more pain on individual retirees, though the savings aren’t there and their demands could derail the whole effort just as a deal is in sight. They risk tossing aside a long summer of fruitful negotiations.

The main goal of the committee was to find a compromise between two cost-cutting plans that came up short in last spring’s legislative session. One plan, known as SB1, inflicted more pain on retirees than a union-backed plan. The nearly final plan is much closer to SB1.

One side, largely the Democrats, has compromised far more than the other. Republicans need to admit that, focus on substance instead of symbolism, and push this plan over the finish line.

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