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State pension videos are not exactly ‘viral’

Unrealistic plots may be the reason

Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration has released another one of those stupefying videos intended to ignite a grass-roots movement to enact pension reform.

If this keeps up, it’s more likely to ignite a grass-roots movement to regulate videos that can be put on the Internet.

We’re not talking about the infamous Squeezy, the Pension Python, who is supposed to be squeezing the life out of the state budget. (Pythons also eat their prey whole and digest it over time, which may be what happens to the state Legislature if it keeps postponing the day of reckoning with pensions.)

No, this is the morality play that is now playing out on thisismyillinois.com, your source for the most entertaining government-produced videos on the Illinois pension problem. Check it out and join just more than 5,800 other people who have watched so far.

Talk about going viral.

If you are one of the 12-million-plus Illinoisans who have not yet watched the videos, here’s the story so far.

In part one, we meet a group of very young schoolchildren sitting around a table voting on their favorite breakfast cereal. After the vote is over, the adult leader gives them a choice of new topics: hot dog meat, semi-permeable membranes, or pension reform. For some inexplicable reason, the children choose pension reform, although logic would suggest they’d rather talk about hot dogs.

The rest of the video unfolds with dry details of pension funding that is clearly incomprehensible to the kids. Outside, that is, of a Girl Scout who quickly computes she would have to sell 1.3 billion boxes of cookies to pay for pensions. She should work in the budget office.

The kids conclude they need a lobbyist because education is being shortchanged in order to pay for pensions.

Part two, which went up the week before Christmas, shows the kids pooling their money to hire a lobbyist who then tells them they need a super PAC to look out for their interests. Early in the video, the screen flashes the message, “Who is watching out for them?”

Well, if the debate is about adequately funding schools, there are a whole lot of people and organizations out there pressing to get more money for schools. A small army of lobbyists is employed to promote education issues. So, if more money for schools automatically translates into a better deal for kids, it’s a stretch to say no one is representing them.

The fact is, all parts of the state budget are being squeezed. Dozens of human-service programs have been cut that help the poor, mentally ill, physically frail, and others. You could just as well ask, Who is watching out for them?

Admittedly, though, school kids make cuter props in videos.

Same old, same old

A coalition of public employee unions has weighed in on pension reform. It was largely the same thing they’ve said before. Employees will contribute more if the state is forced to make its pension payments. They also want a number of business tax breaks ended to provide more money that can be applied to pensions.

What they didn’t discuss was changing benefits, which they believe will be found unconstitutional by the courts. Yet, every pension reform plan proposed so far includes a change in benefits. They take different approaches and call for varying degrees of change, but benefit changes are part of the plans.

The unions want a summit meeting on pensions in January. In other words, they want to be at the bargaining table when pension reforms are discussed.

Fine, but if the unions refuse to budge on benefit changes, and the reformers insist that changes must be part of the solution, it’s hard to see where there’s going to be room for compromise.

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