Fix pensions in proper, open manner > The Southern Illinoisan

6 Aug

Our View: Illinois’ pension funding woes were created over decades, now the governor and Legislature plan a one-day session for repairs? Ridiculous.

Illinois’ pension system needs fixing. It’s hard to find anyone who disagrees with that.

No issue is more vital to the state’s financial well-being and future. The state has $83 billion in unfunded liability between its five pension systems, and that number is only growing. If pensions stay on their current course, either the system or the state will crumble.

So, any move toward meaningful pension reform has to be considered a step in the right direction, doesn’t it?

Well … not necessarily.

Earlier this week, Gov. Pat Quinn said lawmakers will be called to Springfield this month for a special session, with the lone goal of reforming the pension system.

It all sounds laudable. But here’s the rub: The session is only scheduled for one day.

Quinn is ordering lawmakers to Springfield on Aug. 17, and said he expects the House and Senate can figure out this problem on that day.

Given the political climate in this state, it’s hard to imagine Democrats and Republicans agreeing on the lunch menu in less than 24 hours. How, exactly, do they expect to hammer out our biggest financial problem in one day?

Quinn seems to be a believer. When announcing the session, Quinn said that while using some existing legislation as a framework, “The vehicles exist to get this done in a day.”

Color us skeptical.

Quinn had already tasked the Legislature with finding comprehensive pension reform before its latest recess. The job didn’t get done then, and there’s little to show that it could be done in one more Springfield day.

One use of a single-day special session would be for lawmakers to simply vote on a reform bill that was already agreed upon by Quinn and the Four Tops — House Speaker Michael Madigan, House Minority Leader Tom Cross, Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno. The group has had meetings in Chicago to discuss reform, only to fail in reaching an agreement.

Cross and Radogno are asking Quinn to take the lead with pension reform, and it’s not an unreasonable request. But when announcing the special session, Quinn offered no new pension ideas. On the other hand, Cross and Radogno could be equally effective if they reached out to their Democratic counterparts again.

In short, it looks like Aug. 17 may be nothing but a one-day dog-and-pony show at the taxpayers’ expense.

The average cost for a one-day special session can be about $40,000, Cullerton has said. If the day results in pension reform, that’s money well spent. If nothing comes from the day, though, it’s just more of our money down the drain.

Illinoisans aren’t stupid. We know that correcting underfunded pension obligations and reforming the public pension systems are an absolute must.

But if Quinn is serious about passing a reform plan Aug. 17, he should lock himself in a room with the Four Tops and no one emerges until a deal is struck.

The governor and leaders should then give legislators a reasonable amount of time to study the bill or bills. None of this “You’ve got 30 minutes; vote as you’re told,” nonsense.

A day simply won’t be enough. Quinn should tell lawmakers to plan on spending a week — at least — in Springfield.

The cost of a special session is peanuts compared to the state’s pension costs. But spend that money wisely. Give the problems adequate thought and address them with thoroughness. Let legislators study the results and represent the people who sent them to Springfield.

My, wouldn’t that be something?

via Fix pensions in proper, open manner > The Southern Illinoisan.

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2 Responses to “Fix pensions in proper, open manner > The Southern Illinoisan”

  1. Ed Hammer August 17, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

    ‎”In a very telling article by the director of a bipartisan fiscal policy think tank, he argues that cuts to pension benefits would do little or nothing to solve the state’s pension crisis. He points out that neither the pension benefits promised , nor the cost of paying those benefits is responsible for the unfunded liability pension systems . . . if retirement benefits and benefit increases were the only source of unfunded liability, the state’s retirement systems would be 94% funded, rather than the current 43.4 %.” Source: Retired State Employees Newsletter, The Reporter, Vol XXXV No. 7 July 2012

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. I’m going to keep saying it isn’t so. « Fred Klonsky - August 7, 2012

    […] It now appears that the special session of the Illinois General Assembly that the Governor has called  for August 17th to address the pension issue may be a bust. […]

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