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Article posted: 4/28/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: A wide and deep gulf in the pension debate

By

There are a few ways to look at the interaction during The Pension Forum we sponsored with Reboot Illinois Thursday night at Harper College in Palatine.

We were pleased, for instance, that the auditorium at Harper's Wojcik Conference Center was packed. As organizers, we were worried that there would be inevitable no-shows, which would have been especially unfortunate since the volume of ticket requests had forced us to turn down scores who wanted to attend. But virtually all of the 250 who had registered in advance made it out to the event.

Being incessant worriers, we also had been a bit anxious about what the mood might be. From the beginning, we had pursued the forum in the interests of community building, hoping to provide for a thoughtful discussion on one of the state's most wicked challenges.

But there was no guarantee how thoughtful that discussion would be. The public pension issue has created such an acrimonious debate throughout Illinois that it was easy to envision emotions spilling over in unproductive ways.

There'd been behind-the-scenes pressure from diverse special interests to grant favored allowances. We gave in to none of it, but it certainly made us wonder whether there'd be any ripple effect on the night of the forum.

And then we got wind of a rally planned for outside the venue by organizations that feel pensioners have been made scapegoats for the state's problems, and of course, you never quite know what to expect of something like that.

But sheepishly, we now happily concede that any advance hand-wringing about the atmosphere at The Pension Forum was unnecessary and in many ways silly.

The crowd was energetic and passionate but respectful. So was the rally outside. The panelists expressed sharply divergent views but with deference and courtesy.

Frankly, as far as the atmosphere was concerned, we couldn't have been happier. It was an adult conversation, and in that regard, promising.

Unfortunately, if the tenor of The Pension Forum reinforced anything, it was the gulf between pensioners and taxpayers.

It is wide. And it is deep.

Not just broad differences in perspective, but so intractably held that it's difficult to conceive of any movement.

Cinda Klickna, president of the Illinois Education, expressed a view hard to the left. In summary: The state should raise taxes to fulfill its promises to public employees.

Her remarks frequently provoked enthusiastic applause from large numbers in the crowd.

State Rep. Tom Morrison of Palatine, expressed a view hard to the right. In summary: The state should stop guaranteeing pension benefits altogether in the future.

His remarks frequently provoked enthusiastic applause from large numbers in the crowd.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook expressed what seems to us to be the most realistic approach. In summary: Focus on affordability, guaranteeing payments but regrettably cutting benefits to ensure solvency.

Her remarks provoked no applause.

The gulf is wide. And it is deep.

There is much work to be done.

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