State lawmakers finally respond to pension alarm

Conference committee forms during special session, where the fire alert is false — but the fiscal warning is real

Thursday, June 20, 2013

SPRINGFIELD— A fire alarm blared throughout the Capitol on Wednesday as state lawmakers gathered to take a first but small step toward resolving Illinois' massive government worker pension crisis.
The symbolism of legislators rushing toward the exits in one more escape from fiscal reality was not lost. The House and Senate have spent the past two years operating as if the problems caused by the nation's most underfunded state pension system — including a decaying credit rating and increased dollars diverted from education to pay retirement benefits — were little but a false alarm.
In the end, there was no fire, just a one-day special session that's expected to cost taxpayers around $40,000 in meals and mileage, all so the General Assembly could vote to set up a conference committee of lawmakers to keep looking for ways to fix a pension debt that's estimated to top $100 billion by month's end.