12/5/2013 1:05:00 PM Finally, Illinois agrees with taxpayers about pensions
Benjamin Yount Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois lawmakers have finally come to accept what most taxpayers in the state have known for years.
“Illinois pension systems are just too rich to be afforded,” Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan said Tuesday as lawmakers began on a path to pension reform.
Madigan said Illinois cannot guarantee unionized, public employees 3 percent raises for the rest of their lives.
“We all got drawn into a trap, and we all talked about the (cost-of-living adjustment),” Madigan said. “The 3 percent compounded pay increase in retirement is the furthest thing from a COLA, because it has nothing to do with the cost of living.”
Debate continues over whether lawmakers could have — or should have — gone further with pension reform.
But the fact Illinois, a deep blue state, voted to stand up for taxpayers and stand against public employee unions shows how far the state has progressed over the past decade.
In 2005, then Gov. Rod Blagojevich — with union support — skipped Illinois’ pension payment.
That bill has come due, and lawmakers are now listening to taxpayers.
“The public is pushing us to do something. They want something done,” state Rep. Ed Sullivan, R-Mundelein, said. “A lot of people don’t have pensions. Their 401(k)’s have been diminished. And so, they are looking at this pension system as a special deal for a lot of folks.”
Illinois’ public employees decry the reforms, saying school teachers and public workers will now have to scrape to make ends meet in retirement.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, says the unions should learn some basic math.
“The average (teacher) who worked for 30 years had a starting pension of over $72,000,” Ives said. “The average Social Security recipient receives just over $14,000, and they have to work almost a decade longer to receive that benefit.”
Illinois is spending nearly 25 percent of its money on retirement payments. Democrats know this.
“We have a crisis. We have a problem,” said state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook.
Nekrtiz has said pension reforms are needed to ensure Illinois can pay for schools, roads and public safety. You know, to do the work of a functioning government.
Just a handful of Democrats are sticking by the adopted stance of public employee unions, which paint government workers as victims.
“(Pension reform) is actually no different than a thief coming into your house in the night and stealing your valuables,” state Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, said. “The difference is, this isn’t a thief coming in the night. This is your elected representative coming to you; looking you straight in the eye and saying, ‘I’m going to take away your future’.”
The next debate at the Illinois statehouse will be over how Democrats, who control state government, spend the $1.8 billion in “savings” from Tuesday’s pension reform vote.
Ives expects the Legislature to come back to pensions, because there’s more work to be done. “This is a step backward,” Ives said. “You’re actually asking the people that retire with $2 million pensions, and contribute about $120,000 of raw contributions, to pay less.”
If Illinois fails to end defined benefit pensions, and taxpayers flee the state, no one will be left to pay for the pension promises anyway, she said.