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State leaders should stop playing pension pingpong

Legislature must renew focus on that vital issue

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn did his best imitation of a pingpong ball in [last] Wednesday’s State of the State address, bouncing from one issue to the other with often the oddest of transitions. ...

Ultimately it goes to the ability to focus, a characteristic that has been sorely lacking in Springfield, no more so than over pensions, the significant reform of which the Legislature has routinely passed on even as the state’s credit rating has been downgraded to the lowest in the nation as a result.

Perhaps that explains why, in a speech just short of 40 minutes, the governor began with pension reform and ended with it, with yet another mention or two in between.

Problem is, along the way he provided the Legislature an agenda laundry list with no end of potential distractions, from his endorsement of a controversial assault weapons ban to raising the minimum wage, from a public works program to creation of an Illinois Manufacturing Lab at the U of I, from gay marriage to scholarships for illegal immigrants, from more ethics legislation – we get it; he’s not Ryan, not Blagojevich – to online voter registration and open primaries.

There is but one issue for the Legislature to grapple with in this spring legislation session: Pensions.

The argument can be made that the Legislature should do nothing else until that crisis has been tamed, so critical are pension reforms to everything else the state is trying to accomplish through its budget, including balancing it, paying off the old bills, funding classrooms, staffing prisons, insuring the poor, building roads and bridges, etc., etc., etc. Illinois’ unfunded pension liability, at $96 billion and counting, is by far the highest in the nation and compromises all of the above. ...

The state broke the system; it owns the system.

If past is prologue, how can anyone trust state government to suddenly discover the discipline not to go on a spending binge once it has shed its pension burden, condemning us to the same sinking boat a decade from now?

Local taxpayers, beware.

Beyond that, everything else – including taxing retirement income – is fair game.

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