Posted Online: Oct. 02, 2012, 10:32 am

Anderson: Keep promises, phase in solutions

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By Neil Anderson

Illinois has a pension problem. While it is easy for both sides to point fingers and not address the issue, the reality is that Illinois is facing a pension crisis and without reform the pension systems will either run out of money or the state will be bankrupted by retiree costs.

The five systems funded by the state have an unfunded liability of over $83 billion and this continues to grow. Last year lawmakers budgeted $7.4 billion towards pension-related items out of a $33 billion budget, around 22 percent of the total budget went to pensions.

Pension costs are literally stealing from those who need assistance. Yet current lawmakers aren't willing to find a solution. Pension reform will never be easy, you are talking about affecting the retirement benefits of hundreds of thousands of public employees, but inaction jeopardizes these public servants' retirement since one day the check may not be in the mail.

My plan will be simple so that every employee will be able to understand what it will mean for their future and it will also make no changes to any of the benefits for current retirees, since it is unfair to break a promise to those already on a fixed income.

For all current employees I would phase in an increase in contributions, 1 percent per year over three years. This would give all employees ample time to prepare for the increase and would also begin saving the state money immediately.

Next, I would lower the cost of living adjustment for employees who are further than five years from retirement from the current 3 percent compounded annually to a simple interest adjustment based on inflation. Again, since it would not happen to anyone on the verge of retirement, it would give employees time they to adjust. Also I believe that the state should be more accountable; no longer should lawmakers be given the leeway to be irresponsible and pass bills that cut pension funding like my opponent has done in his time in Springfield.

I would introduce strict measures that would make it impossible for lawmakers to play games with pension funding through a Constitutional Amendment that would require full funding of the pension systems to be the first bill passed by the General Assembly every year. No other bills can be signed into law until the fully certified pension contribution is made.

While I cannot support shifting the costs of pensions onto local school districts, I do support increased accountability at the local level by making school districts pay pension costs for end-of-career raises that are over the increase in inflation. However, given the scope of the unfunded pension debt at over $200 billion and counting, it would be ill-advised to transfer any existing red ink to school districts, as this would deal a crushing blow to home owners, when a huge spike in property taxes would transpire.

Pension reform will never be easy to accomplish, but it is necessary. I am committed to working towards a solution that balances what we owe our public servants and taxpayers in Illinois.

Neil Anderson is the GOP candidate for Illinois 72nd District state representative.