Posted Online: Oct. 02, 2012, 10:32 am
Albracht: Hard choices, bipartisan negotiations needed
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By Bill Albracht
Without a doubt Illinois' ever-growing pension debt is among the greatest threats to our state's fiscal stability. Various ratings agencies, including Moody's and Standard & Poors, have consistently warned investors about the fiscal condition of Illinois. Years of mismanagement by the majority party in Springfield have left Illinois with a staggering $83 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. This is a crisis.
First and foremost, I believe that a promise made is a promise kept. Any and all reforms to the pension system in Illinois must respect these promises and ensure that those already enrolled in pension systems are protected as well as the benefits they have earned.
However, going forward meaningful and Constitutional pension reform will be necessary and we will have to face some harsh truths about the Illinois' pension system. The first step is for legislators and union leaders to come to the table and engage in real, earnest, and bipartisan negotiations to solve this crisis.
Legislators must consider bold new solutions. In 1983, the United States government realized that the Civil Service Retirement System was unsustainable and created a new, better system. A plan for Illinois' public employees could more closely reflect the hybrid system the U.S. government implemented, which has proven to be effective for both the employee and the retirement system.
As it currently stands, I oppose the plan to shift the responsibility of pension payouts for teachers and university employees from the state to local school districts and universities. This is not a true reform measure, simply another example of the smoke-and-mirror style of accounting utilized all too often in Springfield. This cost shift does not constitute true savings; instead it hands the burden of pension obligations off to local taxing bodies. This cost shift would drastically increase property taxes for local taxpayers.
Decisive action must be taken soon to keep our pension system from collapsing. We must take proactive steps to ensure that these pensions are intact for those who have paid into it all their working lives, and actively work to get our pension debt under control.
That is why I think the state should engage in direct negotiations with the unions to solve this problem. We don't need to spend years in court fighting over a unilaterally imposed solution like the one that Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed.
Bill Albracth of Moline is the Democratic candidate for Illinios Senate District 36.