Lawmakers must make a move on pension reform

Staff Writer
Morton Times-News

State employees and retirees deserve some kind of decisive action from Illinois lawmakers on pension reform before the end of the legislative session May 31.

Imagine having no idea if you — let alone your spouse or your kids — can afford to get sick. What about the uncertainty of whether you’ll be able to continue paying your children’s school tuition?

Imagine not being sure you can swing a car payment for the next few years just so you can replace your junker from the ‘90s.

And how distressing must it be for grandparents to not know if they’ll ever be able to afford that cross-country trip to visit the grandchildren they haven’t seen since they were babies?

Those are the kinds of fears and uncertainties thousands of state workers and retirees around the state are left to consider while the General Assembly continues to dawdle over pension reform in the waning days of the legislative session.

There is no excuse for lawmakers to further delay approving a pension reform plan — any plan.

All they have to do is pick one before the legislature adjourns.

Lawmakers have two distinct options from which to choose.

One plan, House Speaker Michael Madigan’s Senate Bill 1, takes a big swipe at the state’s pension debt but probably will be challenged in court because it diminishes workers’ benefits in a way that many consider unconstitutional in Illinois.

The other plan, Senate President John Cullerton’s Senate Bill 2404, backed by the unions that represent workers and others, makes a significantly smaller dent in the state’s pension debt but has a better chance of standing up to a court challenge.

The General Assembly’s inaction is astoundingly insensitive.

Not only did lawmakers agree to the pension holidays that helped create this mess in the first place, but they now have the nerve to allow workers and retirees, who put in years of service to the state of Illinois, to dangle with little clarity about what their financial future might hold.

Workers and retirees may not like the plan upon which lawmakers ultimately settle, but at least they’ll know a course has been charted, and they’ll be able to take appropriate action to secure their financial future.

If lawmakers want state employees and retirees to “share in the sacrifice,” approve a reform plan and let them do so.

But as things stand now, they are stuck in limbo, and the state’s staggering $97 billion pension debt continues to grow.

— GateHouse Media Illinois