We arrive here, in the middle of May, with momentum building for real public pension reform but still with it being anyone’s guess whether anything meaningful will happen.
The Illinois House has passed one plan. The Illinois Senate has passed another.
Gov. Pat Quinn, whose courage in pushing for reform we recognize and applaud, nonetheless is powerless to force the hand of the legislative leaders.
“Failure to act on public pension reform is holding back our economy,” Quinn said. “So we need both houses of the legislature, by month’s end, to put something on my desk.”
In the buzz that greets these competing plans, House Speaker Michael Madigan can’t stop himself from predicting that a cost shift that moves responsibility for funding teacher pensions from the state to local school districts is inevitable.
“The state of Illinois should not be paying for the pension costs of employees of local governments,” Madigan said.
As we have chided Speaker Madigan in the past, we don’t fundamentally disagree, especially since some local districts have abused the pension system. But as we also have chided the speaker, if that is the case, the state of Illinois should not be setting the standards for those pensions.
If local school districts are going to pay, local school districts ought to be able to bargain separately on the pension benefits — including whether those individual programs ought to be guaranteed-benefit as the state system is now or guaranteed-contribution as is the case for the most part in the private sector.
This contradiction between who pays and who sets the rules already exists in the responsibility of municipalities to pick up the tab for pension promises made by the state for public safety officers, and the crisis for most towns grows by the day.
It seems apparent, as Madigan suggests, that there will be a new plan. There seems to be little in the way of similarities between the promising House plan he introduced, built off a proposal we have endorsed by State Rep. Elaine Nekritz and State Sen. Daniel Biss; and the less-ambitious Senate plan, endorsed by many of the public employee unions.
What that final plan will be, at this point is as impossible to predict as is the likelihood of its passage.
Last month, we sponsored The Pension Forum along with Reboot Illinois at Harper College in Palatine. Today, we’ve asked the three panelists from that forum to provide their visions, published here edited for space and carried in full online.
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