Illinois leaders report minor progress in state budget talks

CHICAGO (AP) - Illinois legislative leaders said they made minor progress during a Tuesday meeting aimed at ending the state budget stalemate, including agreeing to take another shot at overhauling a public pension system that's billions in debt.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, GOP leaders Sen. Christine Radogno and Rep. Jim Durkin, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton sat down for the second time in as many weeks to try to end an impasse now in its sixth month.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Madigan, Radogno and Durkin described the meeting at Rauner's office in Chicago as cordial and said they will meet again next week.

They said the conversation behind closed doors has focused almost entirely on legislative priorities Rauner says he wants, including term limits for lawmakers and curbing the rights of labor unions to collectively bargain.

None of those proposals would have an immediate impact on the state's budget deficit, but Rauner has said they're necessary to improve Illinois' economy in the long term. The businessman-turned governor says he won't sign off on a tax increase to help balance the budget until Democrats who control the Legislature give him some of what he wants.

Madigan and the GOP leaders indicated the items most likely to bring an agreement - which also took up most of the nearly 90-minute sit-down - were changes to pensions and workers' compensation insurance.

The leaders agreed their staffs will meet to try to work out a new plan to address Illinois' multibillion-dollar unfunded pension liability.

The Illinois Supreme Court earlier this year threw out a previous pension overhaul, saying it violated a provision of the state constitution that says retirement benefits can't be diminished. Lawmakers said that plan would save the state billions in contributions. Durkin said they're now considering other ideas.

"No one wants to talk about it, but we have to talk about it," he said.

Democrats have rejected other top Rauner priorities, such as term limits and creating a new process for drawing Illinois' political districts.

Republicans say those changes are necessary to end years of corruption. Madigan called them "Republican campaign issues for November 2016" that have no place in budget talks.

Radogno and Durkin also said lawmakers agreed to shelve talk of changing the formula Illinois uses to fund public education, saying they will take it up after a budget deal is reached. Lawmakers have long agreed that the system should be more equitable, but not on how to fix it.

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