Sane Solutions to Illinois' Budget and Pension Madness

Opinion by Reboot Illinois COO Madeleine Doubek:

Remember pensions? It's been exactly seven months since the Illinois Supreme Court told us, unanimously, that the state cannot force changes to pension benefits on public employees and retirees.

The state's leading politicians continue to mouth meaningless sound bites about the budget. They're delaying any real attempt at reaching a budget compromise until at least January, seven months late, when they will need fewer votes to pass a tax increase in the new year. By then, eight months will have passed since the pension ruling. All this time has been wasted. We're not been figuring out how to manage the pension behemoth or our other recurring and growing debt loads.

Next month (I hope), Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin will agree to pass a budget compromise that will spend somewhere around $36.3 billion, and $6 billion of that will need to be deposited into the state's pension funds. A month later, in January, Rauner is required to make a budget speech for the next budget year that starts three months later. Next June, we start a budget year with a $7 billion pension payment in a similar spending plan. That's nearly 20 cents of every state dollar going to pay people who aren't working for us anymore, with 80 cents left for schools, roads, prisons, day care, health care for needy and on and on.

"Trying to adopt a budget without pension reform is like trying to do surgery with a butter knife," state Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Republican, said long before last week's show of a faux budget confab.

McSweeney is among the lawmakers who believe pensions could be brought to a more manageable burden by restructuring the payment cycle and by trying to see if Illinois Senate President John Cullerton's notion of offering "consideration" to public workers might be doable. That involves offering workers a choice of different options that could cut pension debt, too.

Freshman state Rep. Mark Batinick, a Plainfield Republican, is sponsoring a spin on the consideration concept. He suggests offering retirees three options...

Continue reading at Reboot Illinois.