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Newly Inaugurated Legislature Faces Pension Crisis

SPRINGFIELD --- Illinois' new general assembly was sworn into office today. Leaders in the House and Senate said there's little time to spare for new lawmakers to address the most serious problem at hand--the pension funding crisis.

The new general assembly is, in a few ways, historic. And one could argue the challenges they face are among the toughest in recent history.

Along with the pomp and circumstance of the formal Senate and House inauguration ceremonies, lawmakers were greeted with a sobering outlook of the work ahead.

"Clearly, there's a great deal that remains to be done," House Speaker Michael Madigan said. "And all of these issues are terribly contentious."

"The state's yearlong fiscal instability, reflected objectively in the fact Illinois has the lowest credit rating in all 50 states, is the problem that threatens the future of every family in this state," Sen. Dale Righter said.

"We are on the verge of our state budget that funds a pension plan instead of needed state services," Senate President John Cullerton said.

Democratic Sen. Andy Manar and Republican Rep. Wayne Rosenthal have additional priorities locally.

"If you look at some of the school districts here in central Illinois, we have some of the districts with the least amount of resources, and I think that's a priority for us," Manar said.

"One of the bigger things is to create a better business climate and bring businesses back here, employers, put people to work," Rosenthal said. "We need to grow our economy that way and increase revenue."

Neither are concerned one party's majority will affect their ability to agree. Democrats hold the largest majority in more than a century in the Senate, controlling 40 of the 59 seats. But what lawmakers don't need is a distraction.

Three of the representatives sworn into the House are facing criminal charges. That's the most in recent history. And it includes Rep. Derrick Smith, who voters put back in office after he was expelled.

"We need to improve the corruption, and appearance and perception of Illinois' corruption," Rosenthal said.

The song to close the Senate's inaugural ceremony was "Feeling Good." The lyrics include "It's a new dawn, it's a new day." That's perhaps fitting, one day after the previous general assembly adjourned without taking any action on pension reform.

Both the House and the Senate are scheduled to work at the Capitol tomorrow.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate, including Cullerton and the sponsors of a comprehensive pension-reform plan that fizzled earlier this week, have already filed their proposals for discussion in the new general assembly.