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updated: 4/24/2013 8:26 AM

Editorial: A chance for a broad conversation on pensions

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

If the purpose of tonight's sold-out forum on pension reform could be reduced to a single phrase, it would be this: Let's talk.

The forum, co-sponsored by the Daily Herald and Reboot Illinois, will feature a diverse audience made up of teachers, firefighters, municipal leaders, lawyers and citizens from all other walks of life. From an informal survey we provided attendees this week, it is clear that a wide range of views will be represented. That's good.

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Illinois is not the first state to face a crisis in the demands of keeping up with its pension obligations, and there can be no question that some -- though certainly not all -- of its problems are self-inflicted. And, though time is running short, the state still has opportunities to develop a pension solution that respects the work and needs of teachers and public employees and that taxpayers can afford. That solution, if it is effective, will not come from politicians huddling in dark rooms a couple of hours before a deadline, after gauging the comparative shrillness and political advantages of each particular interest.

It will come from respectful conversation. It will come from taxpayers acknowledging the work their public servants do, the commitments they've made to their jobs and the promises upon which they've built their futures. It will come from teachers and public workers acknowledging the economic hardships that other taxpayers endure and the retirement expectations that are standard throughout a range of jobs and professions. It will come from legislative leaders acknowledging mistakes they and their forbears have made -- both in undercommitting and in overpromising, as well as in outright raiding of the systems they created -- and creating guarantees that such mistakes cannot be made again.

It will come from all of these interests, from all of us, recognizing that each other has legitimate worries, legitimate complaints and legitimate expectations.

It's that spirit that we hope to bring to tonight's conversation. Madeleine Doubek, chief operating officer for the nonpartisan reform website Reboot Illinois, and Kerry Lester, Daily Herald political editor, will moderate a panel representing three vastly different proposals for solutions -- from Northbrook Democratic state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, from Palatine Republican state Rep. Tom Morrison and from Illinois Education Association President Cinda Klickna.

The speakers will discuss their ideas. The moderators will add questions. There will be time for questions and reactions from the audience. Hopefully, it will all remain civil. No, more than that. Hopefully, it will be not merely civil but actively respectful and productive.

The program is sold out, but you can still follow it in live stream at www.dailyherald.com or rebootillinois.com. You can follow tweets from participants on Twitter at ILPensionForum or send direct messages to ILPensionForum yourself. It's a chance for all of us to talk.

Oh, and of course, there's one other thing. It's also a chance for all of us to listen.

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