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posted: 4/29/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: Our date with history demands we all get involved

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"This is our moment in history to get these issues resolved."

-- Gov. Pat Quinn speaking of Medicaid and pension crises to the Daily Herald editorial board

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The governor is right. This is our moment. We must seize it. We must demand action this spring from our state legislators. For years, our legislators have skipped pension payments, delayed problems, kicked the can down the road.

For years, we have let them. With a collective shrug, we have accepted this inaction and chalked it up to typical politics in the typically corrupt Land of Lincoln.

The inaction hurts us all. The solutions certainly carry pain, too. The solutions that elected officials, civic groups and editorial boards have been discussing for years will hurt. Solutions to out-of-control Medicaid spending and $83 billion in pension debt will hurt public employees and the vulnerable children, poor and elderly who rely on Medicaid. It will hurt hospitals, nursing homes and other providers. Services will be cut that we all rely on or that our loved ones use.

But failing to implement them will hurt even more, possibly endangering programs altogether. So, we have to act. We must take care to ensure that the cuts made are the least painful possible. But make no mistake, cuts must be made.

We have witnessed political activism like never before over federal crises recently. As we've noted before, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements have been healthy developments in our democracy for stirring the attention of the government and the public. Now it's time for those activists and each and every one of us to turn to Springfield and the gargantuan financial crises there.

"We cannot just bless the status quo," Quinn told us.

We have been especially critical of Quinn, often, since he succeeded Rod Blagojevich, but on these points he is absolutely correct. Medicaid is eating up the state budget. It and the pension crisis are taking money away from schools, public safety and human services. They are stifling our state's economy, threatening our credit ratings, holding back job creation and growth.

Quinn has offered a plan to cut $2.7 billion from Medicaid. Even if it were to pass, Illinois still will have $1.9 billion in overdue Medicaid bills to pay. Quinn's pension plan to raise the retirement age, require 3 percent more in contributions from workers, and curb annual cost-of-living increases while continuing to pay for retirees' health care costs still won't bring pension funds into solvency for 30 years. Do we really want our grandchildren suffering under this crushing burden for even more decades to come?

It's time all of us speak up. It's time we tell our legislators we want them participating in finding compromise solutions to these problems. It's time we tell them we expect them to vote for some real, tough solutions now, before they face voters again in November.

It's true. Teachers did not cause the pension problem. Our elected officials did -- those elected to the legislature and those elected to school boards who approved raises seemingly without a thought to the pension impact. And yet teachers are being asked to sacrifice. What do you say to them? "If you don't rescue it," Quinn said, "there will be no retirement. That's what I'd say to teachers."

Several suburban legislators have been working for weeks now on solutions. They don't agree with all that Quinn supports, nor do we. Still, we commend state Reps. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, Darlene Senger, a Naperville Republican, Patti Bellock, a Hinsdale Republican, and state Sen. Michael Noland, an Elgin Democrat, for their efforts.

To them, we say, don't stop now, and don't let politics override the opportunity to accomplish something. To all other suburban Democrats and Republicans, we say, we expect you to join them. We need significant pension and Medicaid fixes. We need them now.

"This is a rendezvous with reality," Quinn said. "We have to be determined to get this done."

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