Editorial: Quinn shows courage on pension reform

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted4/22/2012 5:00 AM

Before we say anything else, let's say this: Gov. Pat Quinn deserves some credit for resolve and political courage.

He has offered a pension reform proposal that is detailed and unafraid, a bold plan that could serve as the basis for a tough solution to an immense problem that many have assumed is almost unsolvable.


We often have disagreed with Quinn. To be sure, there are elements of this plan that give us pause. In fact, we have great reservations about the opening this plan could provide to shift the state's financial obligations back to local property taxpayers, potentially wrecking suburban schools if done irresponsibly.

But give the governor his due. He's not ducking the problem, the way so many others in Springfield have done in the past. He's tackling it head on, even running the risk of offending special interests that helped put him in office.

We're genuinely impressed, Governor. We don't fully agree, but we are impressed and we are encouraged.

While state Rep. Darlene Senger of Naperville, one of the members of Quinn's own pension working group, denigrated the proposal as "half baked," we're more inclined toward the sentiment expressed by Ty Fahner, the president of the civic committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago.

"We're gratified that everyone now recognizes the depth of the Illinois pension crisis," Fahner said. "The governor's announcement ... demonstrates important movement toward solving our pension problems, but the devil is always in the details. We agree with much of what is outlined in the governor's plan but believe that further refinement is necessary. With that said, we are very encouraged and stand ready to work together to put our state back on sound financial ground."

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We couldn't have said it better, Mr. Fahner.

As proposed, the plan would call for a 3 percent increase in employee contributions, reduce the cost-of-living adjustment mandates, phase in an increase in the retirement age to 67 and limit public sector pensions to public sector employees.

These are all gutsy -- and in some sectors, unpopular -- moves. And necessary.

But the devil is in the details.

We agree that some school boards have contributed to the crisis by playing games with raises to maximize pensions, but any shift in pension payment responsibilities should be limited to ending those, not as a ruse to let the state walk out on a crisis it largely created.

In addition, let's be careful that "the deal" with employee groups to accept what they see as rollbacks does not come with hidden trade-offs that end up costing the taxpayer more in the long run.

But chalk those up as concerns that need to be part of the discussion, not obstacles that end it.

For now, kudos to Quinn for getting the discussion started.

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