Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2013, 2:26 pm
Editorial: Billion reasons to reform
Comment on this story
The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus
As if lawmakers in Springfield didn't already have plenty of reasons to attack the pension crisis sucking the life out of Illinois' budget, Judy Baar Topinka offers a billion more.
On Monday, the state comptroller urged lawmakers to transfer $1 billion from financially secure state programs to ones that will go broke long before the fiscal year ends in June. Those endangered programs serve the state's most vulnerable citizens: seniors, children and people with disabilities.
This crisis, of course, is merely the latest in the Land of Lincoln. Illinois has an estimated $9 billion in unpaid bills and is underfunding pensions by more than $96 billion. Even as the temporary income tax hike readies to expire next year, nothing gets done, but a lot of talk, talk and more talk. When will lawmakers listen? We're not the only ones who are frustrated.
There is no shortage of ideas for fixing the problem, but there is little appetite for making the tough choices.
What can the poor Illinois citizen do about it? We may lack the power to enact change, but we are not powerless. Do not let our lawmakers or the governor rest. Keep beating the drum, loudly.
Keep after them until they act. Their inaction is providing us with plenty of ammunition for the fight. As you're holding their feet to the fire, here are some more reasons courtesy of the Belleville News-Democrat to add to the comptroller's latest billion:
Illinois' pension crisis touches us all
If you think that Illinois' pension crisis doesn't really concern you because you're not a teacher or a state employee, think again. The "Illinois effect" from that $96 billion pension shortfall affects everyone in the state.
Municipalities, even with stellar credit ratings, are having to pay a surcharge to borrow money because Illinois' terrible reputation in the financial world is tarnishing them. Elementary and secondary schools are struggling with everything from classroom offerings to transportation because the state has cut back promised funding.
About 18,000 college students with need-based scholarships had their money cut off. DuPage and Kane counties just merged their juvenile detention facilities. These are just three examples of how the ballooning pension debt is squeezing out other state programs.
In fiscal 2008, pensions consumed 6 percent of the state budget; when the new fiscal year starts in July, that percentage is expected to increase to 16 percent unless something is done.
Some lawmakers opposed a pension reform deal because it would have shifted costs to the local school districts and potentially increased property taxes. Well, property taxes may increase in some districts anyway to make up for all the state cutbacks. Illinois lawmakers converge on Springfield at the end of the month. The previous assembly said it was urgent to reform pensions yet lawmakers did nothing.
Are things going to have to get worse than they already are to get them to act?