Finding Consensus on Pension Reform

The pension reform impasse brought on by Democrat leaders in Springfield is costing Illinois taxpayers $17 million for each and every day a solution is not found. It is threatening the financial future of the state including the ability to provide resources to the elderly, veterans, children and our most vulnerable populations. What’s more, without reform there will not be funds available to ensure the state’s current and future retirees will have a pension at all.

Twice in the last 30 days, the state’s credit rating has been downgraded as a result of its unsustainable pension system, giving Illinois the dubious distinction of having the lowest credit rating among all states. Those downgrades are costing the state millions of dollars more to borrow for capital improvement programs leading to fewer improvements and even fewer jobs.

It was those downgrades that motivated the Governor to finally take action; calling for a Special Session on pension reform that was held today. In a rare move, legislators voted to form a conference committee in an attempt to find consensus on a solution that could save the state from financial ruin.

The bi-partisan, bi-cameral group of 10 legislators is comprised of three Democrats and two Republicans from each chamber.  Representatives Darlene Senger and Jil Tracy were appointed by Leader Tom Cross for the House Republican Caucus and Representatives Elaine Nekritz, Michael Zalewski and Art Turner were appointed by Speaker Madigan to represent the House Democrat Caucus. Senators Matt Murphy and Bill Brady will represent the Senate Republicans. The Senate Democrats appointed Senators Kwame Raoul, Daniel Biss and Linda Holmes. Committee members will work towards the July 9 deadline set by the Governor to devise legislation that can withstand the vote of both chambers and obtain the Governor's signature.

If pension reform in Illinois is going to have a chance, conference committee members will need to agree on a compromise that has real savings for the state. House Republican Leader Tom Cross and Speaker Michael Madigan have made it clear they will not support pension reform that does not include substantial savings.  It must be real reform.

The cost of a Special Session and the daily cost of the mounting pension liability as well as the increased cost of borrowing for capital projects due to the credit downgrades, could have been avoided had the Democrat majority leaders acted more quickly to resolve the pension crisis. Speaker Madigan and President Cullerton could have and should have formed the committee before the end of session avoiding the additional cost of special session.

State employees have worked hard and faithfully. They deserve a retirement plan that is dependable yet affordable for taxpayers. We need to pass meaningful pension reform that will stabilize our pension systems, put us on a better track for the future and make sure that essential services are not crowded out by out-of-control retirement costs. If we don’t, the state will find itself in a spiral from which we may not be able to return.