Illinois lawmakers who are grappling with state pension reform do not appear to be getting much help from their constituents.
According to a new Crain’s/Ipsos Illinois Poll, public support seems to be slipping for proposals to force government workers to pay more or accept less in the way of pensions and retiree health care just as the General Assembly enters the heart of its spring session.
A majority of the 618 voting-age residents surveyed still back big changes. But the size of the majority is down to a bare 52 percent despite frequent statements from Gov. Pat Quinn and others that the state faces a financial crisis that will hurt funding for education, public safety and other programs. And those surveyed gave a big thumbs down when asked about a proposal similar to one being pushed by Illinois Senate President John Cullerton to force workers to choose between paying more for their pension or losing their retiree health insurance.
Here are the details.
Asked whether government workers including police, teachers and state employees should have their pension plan altered “because (the state) does not have the money,” 52 percent said yes. Thirty-two percent agreed that the current pension plans should be honored “even though it will mean continuing to overextend the budget.”
That’s still a majority in favor of change. But it’s down from June, when an identical question found 57 percent favoring change and 26 percent opposing.
Some of the difference may be due to sampling error. The accuracy margin of the survey overall is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, with greater variation for sub-regions such as Chicago or downstate. Still, the swing came after a period in which the pension issue has received enormous coverage in the media, with frequent stories about Illinois debt downgrades and the likelihood that the state’s unfunded pension liability now has topped $100 billion.
Support dwindling for specific proposals
The same result — falling public support — came when those surveyed were asked about specific pension-reform proposals.
For instance, support for requiring workers to pay 3 percent more of their salary to keep their current pension benefits slipped from 57 percent in favor and 26 percent opposed in June to a 52 percent/30 percent split now.
Similarly, when asked about a plan to force workers to choose between paying more or losing their retiree health care — a variation of the proposal Mr. Cullerton as pushed through the Senate, views switched from a nearly even split in June — 40 percent approving and 42 percent opposed — to 37 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed.
Broken down by region, it appears that most of the shift in public opinion has occurred in the city of Chicago and, to a lesser degree, downstate.
Those surveyed were widely in agreement on one thing, though. Asked who they blame most for Illinois’ pension woes, small, single-figure numbers cited only Mr. Quinn, lawmakers or unions. But 52 percent said “all of them.”
The Crain’s/Ipsos Illinois Poll is a representative survey of voting-age state residents conducted over the Internet. Ipsos validates the sample against offline data sources such as telephone surveys to ensure the accuracy of its weighting. This survey was conducted April 13-17.
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