Most Illinois voters might be surprised by their ballot when they vote next month – but they’ll be shocked by the consequences if it passes. Proposed Constitutional Amendment 49 “adding Sec. 5.1 to Article XIII,” claims to address the state’s pension obligations.
First, given the shortfall of more than $80 billion in Illinois’ five pension plans, voters should ask how a new Sec. 5.1 would deal with the money the state owes those pensions. It does nothing.
Most Illinoisans seem torn between anger about state pensioners supposedly getting rich off taxpayers, and concern about state-worker neighbors caught between incompetent lawmakers and greedy credit agencies in cahoots with big banks. The real debate should be one timid types in Springfield (or Washington) avoid: What do citizens want government to do and how will it be funded?
Republican Illinois State Senate candidate Randy Frese of Paloma said the state's pension problems are a sign of broken government, which he said was caused by a lack of leadership.
Frese said the pension reform program in Rhode Island could serve as a template for Illinois. He said Rhode Island raised the retirement age, froze the cost of living adjustment (COLA), and implemented a 401K style plan. Frese said the state did so long before it got into a financial hole as deep as the one in Illinois.
Conservative estimates indicate Illinois is $83 billion short of what it has promised state workers in retirement benefits. But Ralph Martire of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability said said there is nothing inherently wrong with the state's pension plans.
He said the problem is that for 40 years the state “borrowed like a credit card” from pensions to pay for other services. But instead of acknowledging that, state leaders and lawmakers have played politics with the issue.
No pension legislation moved through the Illinois General Assembly during Friday's special legislative session.
Democrats pushed along a plan to cut pension benefits for state elected politicians and no one else, but opponents -- including Representative Darlene Senger (R-Naperville) -- called the proposal disingenuous.
"I am not going to vote for this. I think it's a farce," said Senger.
"I think we're basically coming out and saying we're doing something and we're absolutely not, and it's a real disservice for those who live in this state."
15% of the state budget in Illinois this year is going toward pensions. That means there's less to spend on other needs.
The gap between what has Illinois promised employees they will get when they retire and what the state has set aside to pay those pensions is $83 billion. State government would have to completely shut down for two-and-a-half years, and use all of that operating budget money on pensions, to pay off that debt.