CHICAGO (AP) — With lawmakers preparing to return to Springfield this week to address the state’s most pressing issues, Senate President John Cullerton is suggesting the $97 billion Illinois pension shortfall isn’t as dire as other top leaders contend.
During an interview Sunday on WGN Radio, Cullerton said the shortfall isn’t an imminent crisis but acknowledged finding a solution would help bring down income taxes.
“Let me also just say that people really misunderstand the nature of this whole problem,” Cullerton said. “I don’t think you can use the word crisis to describe it at the state level.”
Cullerton’s statements come in contrast to those of Gov. Pat Quinn, as well as the state’s other three legislative leaders. Quinn has said he was “put on earth” to solve the problem, and wants lawmakers to address pensions before anything else this fall. Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan last January described the pension crisis as “the most serious problem affecting the state of Illinois today.”
Cullerton says the state has been putting more money into its pension systems under a 1996 law. He says that it’s “something we have to deal with, but not something we’re on the verge of bankruptcy on.”
He says he wants to lower the annual amount the state pays in, which will generate savings to allow the state’s income tax to be cut.
However, Cullerton said, the situation is not as dire as for the city of Chicago’s pension systems, which are at risk of collapse.
Lawmakers begin their fall veto session Tuesday and face considerable pressure to deal with the pension problem, considered the nation’s worst.
But a bipartisan committee working on reform is split over a plan that saves $138 billion over 30 years. Cullerton supports that plan, but points to delayed implementation dates of legislation as one reason lawmakers could wait to vote on the issue until 2014.
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