Suburbs have sway on governor's pension team

3 of 4 members talk about the task at hand

SPRINGFIELD — Suburban lawmakers might be in good position to sway Gov. Pat Quinn's opinion on one of the state's most pressing issues as three of the four members of his new pension team are from the suburbs.

Many lawmakers and Quinn agree that tackling the state employee retirement systems will at least be a subject of discussion in 2012.

But the issue is contentious, and whether anything substantial happens in an election year remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, payments to cover the pensions of teachers, university employees and state workers hamper the state's spending plans at the expense of schools and social services.

Here are some thoughts from the suburban members of Quinn's team.

Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook DemocratQ: In the suburbs, teachers who could see their future pension benefits reduced might be the biggest opponents of reform. What would you tell them?A: The choices that we as a state are faced with if we fail to address this involve current funding for education and other critical state programs. Another option is to have the systems go bankrupt. Or have the state go bankrupt. I don't mean to be so dramatic, but those are likely things we are facing. None of those is a good outcome.It's not my intention to punish teachers or try to solve the problem solely with their pension system, but I believe it has to be part of the solution.Q: Senate Democrats in particular argue changing pension benefits for working teachers is unconstitutional. Is that a concern?A: I think that almost whatever we do, it will be tested in the courts. There will be someone who is unhappy, I can't blame them, who will file suit. I think the real question is: Does the Constitution actually protect benefits going forward and not just benefits earned?The other question, I think, for the Supreme Court is: If the state and/or the systems are bankrupt, what are we protecting? There's nothing left to protect.Rep. Darlene Senger, a Naperville RepublicanQ: In the suburbs, teachers who could see their future pension benefits reduced might be the biggest opponents of reform. What would you tell them?A: This is basically a mathematical equation that doesn't work anymore. I totally understand that the state shorted the system. Let's get this going where we can make it work, and make it sustainable, and you have a retirement.Q: Because if nothing is done and the retirement systems crash, workers would have nothing at all?A: Correct, and that's what we're trying to do here. And many understand that. They get it. I'm trying to get to the point with the pension system that they have their pension.Q: Does it make a difference that it's an election cycle, when lawmakers sometimes try to avoid prickly issues?A: Something has to give sooner or later. I'd like to see something done this year. Will something get done this year? I don't know.We're going to have to figure out what to do with this deficit before the election cycle.Sen. Michael Noland, an Elgin DemocratQ: Is it inevitable that this panel has to look at retirement benefits of current workers?A: The answer is yes, but promises made need to be promises kept.It's future benefits that are in question. All options are on the table. And all stakeholders, at some point, need to be brought to the table.Q: What do you see as your role on this panel?A: Rep. Nekritz, Rep. Senger, Sen. Brady, and (Quinn adviser) Jerry Stermer have all really been through this before.If there's anything that I provide, it's a fresh set of eyes and an understanding of the constitutional and the overriding economics of the issue. That's what I will be attempting to offer as we go along. Right now, it's a period of trying to understand the issue. Then, there will be a time to become understood.mug748995Elaine Nekritz mug 300399Michael Noland

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.