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posted: 4/18/2013 10:18 AM

Forum provides a chance for all views on pensions to grow

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The Daily Herald has already stated unambiguously that we think pension reform needs to be instituted immediately and we tend to favor -- in principle at least, if not in every detail -- a compromise approach offered by state Rep. Elaine Nekritz and Sen. Daniel Biss.

Might we, then, have an ulterior motive to promote a specific agenda in sponsoring along with Reboot Illinois an information program on pension reform proposals? It's an understandable question. But the answer is an unequivocal no. Our only objective for the Pension Forum scheduled for next Wednesday night is to add depth and detail to the discussion over what to do about the state's pension crisis.

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With that goal in mind, we and Reboot -- a nonpartisan political reform website that coincidentally has also supported the Biss-Nekritz agenda -- seek to create a program in which some of the leading ideas on the pension issue can get a thorough review before a suburban audience. Reboot's Chief Operating Officer Madeleine Doubek secured commitments from state Reps. Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, and Tom Morrison, a Palatine Republican, and Illinois Education Association President Cinda Klickna to conduct a panel discussion that Doubek and Daily Herald Political Editor Kerry Lester will moderate.

It's important to point out that the three speakers espouse positions that differ substantially from each other. Among other things, Nekritz' proposal would end the compounding of annual 3 percent cost-of-living increases for retirees, make other adjustments to benefits and gradually shift responsibility for making pension payments from the state to local agencies. Morrison's -- co-sponsored by Wheaton Republican Jeanne Ives -- would move all new hires into a 401(k)-style savings program and freeze cost-of-living increases, at least for now. The IEA supports proposals that maintain a traditional pension program, raise revenues by closing what they call corporate tax loopholes and require increased contributions from employees.

Each plan has strengths and weaknesses, and to be clear, these are not the only ideas worth discussing. But they are worth discussing, and in the process, the other ideas will surely emerge, as may others that no one has ever thought of before. Such is the purpose of our forum -- that important ideas will be explained carefully and reviewed critically, that many perspectives will be aired openly and that all who participate will leave with information and ideas they did not have when they began.

We knew from the outset that public pensions are an important topic, but we did not expect the complicated politics of the issue to attract as much interest as they have. As a result, we've had to move to a larger venue and still cap attendance and turn away some people. That process naturally stirs fears some people may be shut out so that their point of view will not be presented. To that concern, I can only say: We are an information company. We have and express opinions sometimes, but our No. 1 objective, our No. 1 interest, is to provide information,particularly information that will help our democracy work better.

So, if for whatever reason you cannot make next week's forum, take heart. We'll be live streaming the program and finding other ways to involve people in the discussion who may not be attending in person. Who knows? Our own views about the legislative approaches under discussion may change. We know for certain that they'll grow. Whether you are a teacher worried about your future, a citizen worried about your taxes or a school board member worried about your budget, whether you attend in person, watch at dailyherald.com or just read about it all later, we hope yours will, too.

Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald.com is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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