25 Apr
MONDAY, April 23, 2012
Rich Miller’s — CAPITOL FAX
 A statewide poll taken over the weekend shows a majority of Illinoisans support three key aspects of Gov. Pat Quinn’s new pension reform proposal.

Quinn unveiled his plan on Friday afternoon. Unions immediately denounced the proposal as unconstitutional, but Republicans and some top Democrats indicated they could back much or even all of it.

The poll, taken Sunday of 1,253 registered Illinois voters by We Ask America, found that 53 percent approved of the governor’s plan to phase in a requirement that public workers wait until they’re 67 before they can retire. According to the automated survey, 44 percent were opposed and another 3 percent were undecided.

The strongest support, 56 percent, approved of the governor’s plan to force public employees to “pay three percent more than they currently do toward their retirement.” It’s actually three percentage points more, but “three percent more” is the language the governor used. Just 38 percent disapproved of the idea and 6 percent were undecided. Even a majority of union households, 56 percent, approved of the plan, while 40 percent disapproved. Non-union households favored the plan 56-38.

The weakest support came for the governor’s proposal to reduce the annual 3 percent automatic cost of living adjustments received by pensioners. A slim majority. 51 percent, approved, but only 41 percent disapproved while 8 percent were undecided. Again, union households favored the plan 50-43.

Pension reform has become one of the hottest state issues throughout the country, with even lots of Democrats climbing on board. Opposition is usually centered in the most traditionally liberal areas and these proposed reforms are no exception, according to the poll. Chicagoans soundly rejected all three proposals. Registered Chicago voters turned a 39-56 thumbs down on raising the retirement age to 67, rejected making active employees pay a higher percentage of their pension costs 41-50, and disagreed with reducing COLAs 39-51.

Suburban Cook County residents, who tend to lean Democratic but are usually far more moderate than Chicagoans, supported all of the reforms by fairly wide margins (retirement age: 56-42; higher share: 58-38; COLA: 54-41). Collar county voters are even more conservative and lean more Republican and supported the plan by even larger majorities (retirement age: 63-35; higher share: 68-27; COLA: 60-35). Downstaters, who tend to vote Republican but are more dependent on government employment than any other region, were right around the statewide average (retirement age: 52-44; higher share: 56-37; COLA: 52-39).

Males were far more likely than females to support the governor’s plans. Raising the retirement age was supported by 59 percent of men, but just 49 percent of women (46 percent of women disapproved). Forcing employees to pay a greater share of their pension contributions was backed by 65 percent of men and only 51 percent of women. Only 47 percent of women supported reducing COLAs (44 percent were opposed), while 59 percent of men backed Quinn’s plan.

The poll will most certainly be welcome news for the governor. I’ll post the full results at the blog today. This week’s subscriber-only blog password is: GRANDMA.

ROADBLOCK REMOVED? Besides the fact that it didn’t have 60 votes, one of the reasons that the House never took up Republican Leader Tom Cross’ pension reform bill was that the measure was opposed by Senate President John Cullerton. There was no sense in strong-arming a bill through the House and enraging the unions if the Senate wasn’t even going to touch it.

Cullerton’s public objection was that Cross’ bill was likely unconstitutional. Cross wanted to force current employees into another pension system by raising their pension contributions and lowering their benefits.

Gov. Quinn’s pension reform plan, however, takes a different route. Quinn focuses on using worker pay increases and health insurance subsidies to push employees into a lower-benefit, higher cost plan. Quinn’s proposal would allow workers to stay in their current pension plan, but those workers would not be able to count future pay increases toward their retirement income. They would also receive no subsidy at all for their health care when they retire. Currently, retirement income is based on the percentage of the final salary, and retiree health insurance is provided without a monthly premium.

Quinn’s people believe that both “sticks” they want to use to force workers into the lower-benefit, higher-cost plan are constitutional. And, more importantly, so apparently does Cullerton.

Cullerton’s official reaction after the governor unveiled his proposal stated he was “pleased that the governor’s proposal embraces the legal framework that will allow the state to control pension costs in a constitutional way.”

Cullerton did say, however, that the proposal “will need to be resolved through further discussions with stakeholders,” but Quinn’s plan is the first one that Cullerton has ever indicated he could support.

* Meanwhile, the governor’s office claims the new pension proposal would reduce future state contributions by $65-85 billion through 2045. However, the governor’s office says that next fiscal year’s scheduled $5.2 billion pension payment will remain the same.


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