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

Verschoore: Pensions about principles, not politics

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By Pat Verschoore

First and foremost , I believe a contract is more than a legal term it is a public commitment. This commitment is to our state's teachers, police officers, firefighters and public employees. I want to ensure those firefighters, such as my opponent, who have paid into the pension system have the security of a dignified retirement.

The past General Assemblies and governors, both Republicans and Democrats have used gimmicky accounting schemes and "pension holidays" for decades. If not addressed, these schemes will cost taxpayers much more in the future.

Reforms were made for new state employees that will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in the future. These reforms require new employees to work longer, cap their maximum pensionable salary and, most importantly, eliminate the double dipping that has cost taxpayers dearly. Despite these reforms, we know more needs to be done.

Obviously a comprehensive solution to this state's underfunded pension system will not be easy -- if it were it would have been done a long time ago. I have continually advocated for various steps to come to a fair and equitable solution for the solvency of the state's pension.

My friends on the other side of the aisle, those same people who are supporting my opponent, merely want to break current pension contracts and not keep this state's word to the teachers of this state who have worked for over 30 years and the police officers who keep our families safe. I have one principle that I have always abided by -- and that is to keep my word. This issue over pensions needs to be about principles not politics.

-- The first step in this process is ensuring that all parties that have skin in this game are at the table.

-- Second, I have advocated for identifying the problem. So many times, whether it be in business or government, the actual problem is never identified; thus, no solutions can be formulated.

-- Third, let's look at other states and see what has worked and what has not worked.

-- Fourth, once the problems are identified and options are on the table, we must come up with a solution that neither breaks the backs of our retirees or current employees nor break the bank in this state and will, most importantly, save taxpayer dollars.

We cannot allow our pension system to overtake the state's overall budget. We must continue to invest in education for the future of this state, ensure our roads and bridges are not only adequate for now but for the future, and we must protect those who cannot protect themselves.

-- The fifth step is implementation. This does not mean implementation for just one or two years. This means making the hard choices year in and year out -- just as our young families in Illinois make difficult budget choices our state must do the same. This state has its problems but it is still the greatest in the Union and we must focus on the future to ensure that we are not going backward rather forward.

Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, represents Illinois House District 72.