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Article updated: 6/18/2013 10:42 AM

Editorial: Lawmakers, seize this chance for redemption on pensions

By

Illinois lawmakers find themselves on the eve of a rare opportunity to redeem themselves. They can prove they are capable of doing something -- doing something -- for the betterment of the state and all the agencies it supports.

That is their potential as they take up the intractable issue of pension reform in special session on Wednesday. Expectations, as Daily Herald State Government Writer Mike Riopell reported on Sunday, are not high, but the stakes are inestimable.

The key, as we dearly hope every suburban state senator and state representative is aware, lies in putting the fiscal health of the state first among all goals, recognizing that without a healthy financial condition, no other goals are possible. With that awareness, the House has passed an imperfect but practical strategy for rescuing the state pension system, strengthening the state's budget and ensuring generous, fair, sustainable benefits for teachers and state employees. Gov. Quinn, to his credit, has thrown his support behind this strategy.

Now, all that's left is for the Senate, stubbornly fixed on a less ambitious plan, to climb on board. Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, has said he will provide his body that chance and call the House plan for a vote Wednesday.

Success will require courage and consideration. In the final days of the regular session, the Senate soundly rejected the House plan, so several senators will have to re-examine their positions. Logic and assessment of the math ought to be influence enough to persuade them, but if not, surely the brutal drubbing handed the state by the major bonding houses after the close of the legislative session got their attention.

In an unfortunate sideshow Monday, several lawmakers -- many of them suburban -- conducted a news conference to advance yet another direction for pension reform. But the plan they promote, essentially converting the pension system entirely into a 401(k)-style program, has no hope of success and can only distract support from the one viable approach now on the table. The plan embodied in legislation proposed by Republican Rep. Tom Morrison of Palatine is not without merit, but it has had its moment in the spotlight and now can serve only to complicate an already fragile debate.

The task before lawmakers Wednesday is to recognize the practical and political calculations of the House strategy and achieve what they failed to achieve last month. That's a responsibility particularly faced by these suburban senators, who voted against the House approach: Melinda Bush, Grayslake Democrat; Tom Cullerton, Villa Park Democrat; Linda Holmes, Aurora Democrat; Dan Kotowski, Park Ridge Democrat; Terry Link, Waukegan Democrat; Julie Morrison, Deerfield Democrat; John Mulroe, Chicago Democrat; and Michael Noland, Elgin Democrat. Karen McConnaughay, a St. Charles Republican, voted no but later said she intended to vote yes. Lake Barrington Republican Dan Duffy didn't vote.

Should the measure find its way back to the House, these suburban opponents share a similar responsibility: Linda Chapa LaVia, Aurora Democrat; Mike Fortner, West Chicago Republican; Rita Mayfield, Waukegan Democrat; Michael McAuliffe, Chicago Republican; Sandra Pihos, Glen Ellyn Republican; Dennis Reboletti, Elmhurst Republican; and Michael Tryon, Crystal Lake Republican.

No reasonable Illinoisan wants public employees, taxpayers or anyone else to suffer because of pension reform. Every reasonable participant in this debate wants reform that is fair, guaranteed and affordable and that appreciates the value of public employees, teachers especially.

The House plan advanced by Speaker Mike Madigan is the only one that accomplishes that aim. For too long, senators have clung to constitutional uncertainty and the self-interest of unions to promote a plan that is woefully inadequate to the needs of the state. The clash of the two plans has further bruised Illinois' dismal political reputation and, worse, left us on the precipice of financial ruin.

Lawmakers, you have the opportunity on Wednesday to break that cycle and set the stage for a more prosperous future in Illinois. Seize it.

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