Top Priority: ‘Reform’ Makes Pensions More Important than Schools, Roads

By Ben Yount, the Illinois Watchdog

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Public employee unions in Illinois are trying to kill pending pension reform, even though the state is making some extraordinary promises.

Even though the state would pay more and guarantee billions for the defined contribution plans before lawmakers decide how much to spend on schools, roads, public safety or social services.

“The average voter does not get to retire in their early 50s and get their salary for the rest of their lives with escalators,” Bruce Rauner a GOP candidate for governor and avowed opponent of Illinois’ public employee unions told Illinois Watchdog.

Illinois is promising an additional $1 billion a year for 25 years — from 2019 to 2044.

The state paid more than $8 billion for pensions this year

Rauner says the reform package is a gift to big labor, though unions vehemently oppose it.

GET OUT: Rauner says Illinois needs to get out of the pension business altogether.

The legislation would end astronomic cost-of-living adjustments, have some public employees working longer, cap future public pensions in the low six figures and end an egregious practice in which union officials roll union work into pension systems. Under reform, public employees would pay less for their retirements.

Not good enough, Rauner says.

“(This plan) gives more power to the government union bosses. That’s exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. This would allow the government union bosses to push their pension payments ahead of public safety spending, education spending, the social safety net.”

Rauner is focusing on the funding guarantee, which would allow public employee unions to sue the state if lawmakers fail to pay as promised.

The reform package would save $160 billion over the next 30 years, supporters say, but no one in Springfield is putting numbers on the annual payments.

Cory Eucalitto, an editor and author for State Budget Solutions, said Illinois’ pension debt is far more than $100 billion, the figure lawmakers are using. The proposed reforms don’t save that much, he said.

“Compared to their current assets, (Illinois’ pension) plans combined are just 20.1 percent funded. $20 billion in savings will only reduce the unfunded liability to $235 billion and raise the funded ratio a laughable 1.4 percent,” Eucualitto wrote in his analysis.

Ecualitto takes issue with the 401(k)-style defined contribution option, which is included in the reform. Just 5 percent of public employees can enroll, and the money can be “swept” up by the state and spent on other “needs.”

Rauner said Illinois should take a lesson from the private sector and get out of the pension business altogether.

“The state of Illinois’ government looks a lot like GM,” Rauner said. “We’ve become, in effect, a pension operation and a health-care operation for employees.”

Illinois lawmakers are set to vote Tuesday afternoon, and Rauner expects the pension reform package to become law.

About Warner Todd Huston

Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago-based freelance writer, has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and is featured on many websites such as Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com, BigJournalsim.com and all Breitbart News' other sites, RightWingNews.com, CanadaFreePress.com, and many, many others. Additionally, he has been a frequent guest on talk-radio programs across the country to discuss his opinion editorials and current events as well as appearing on TV networks such as CNN, Fox News, Fox Business Network, and various Chicago-based news programs. He has also written for several history magazines and appears in the book "Americans on Politics, Policy and Pop Culture" which can be purchased on amazon.com. He is also the owner and operator of PubliusForum.com. Feel free to contact him with any comments or questions : EMAIL Warner Todd Huston and follow him on Twitter, on Google Plus , and Facebook.
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