Edgar defends government workers' pensions

2012-12-04T14:18:00Z 2012-12-05T14:11:09Z Edgar defends government workers' pensionsKurt Erickson | kurt.erickson@lee.net pantagraph.com
December 04, 2012 2:18 pm  • 

SPRINGFIELD - Former Gov. Jim Edgar says the corporate titans who are pressing state officials to fix Illinois' deep financial problems need to temper their criticism of the pensions received by government employees.

Edgar, a Republican who has served on some corporate boards, said he thinks some of the wealthy businessmen who've been pushing for a pension overhaul don't understand that state workers don't have the same types of compensation packages as those in private business.

"I think people in the private sector don't understand there are some limitations in the public sector they didn't have," Edgar said. "I see what bonuses they get and things state employees don't have."

"We never had profit sharing. We never had stock options. We never had bonuses. All we really had was our retirement," Edgar said. "They ought to be a little more understanding and not quite as harsh on state workers as they've been."

The former governor's comments came as Gov. Pat Quinn continues to push for pension legislation designed to begin addressing an unfunded liability of $94 billion within the state's five employee retirement systems.

Quinn wants action by the end of the lame duck session on Jan. 9, but some rank-and-file lawmakers say they are frustrated by the lack of information they have received about any potential proposals.

"I'm shocked that we have seen anything in black and white. It's kind of hard to comment on anything when you haven't seen anything in writing. It's all hypothetical, all rumors," said state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg.

That could change Wednesday when the lead negotiator on pension reform in the House is scheduled to unveil a package of pension reforms that could become the basis for legislation in January.

The proposal, which has some bipartisan support, will be "a balanced plan to simultaneously bring state pension costs under control for the long term and provide retirement security for hundreds of thousands of state workers and teachers."

Edgar was governor in 1995 when the last major pension funding overhaul was enacted. But, he said the legislature didn't stick with that funding plan and the savings it would have brought never transpired.

Unlike his Republican colleagues in the House and Senate, Edgar didn't dismiss the idea of forcing school districts to pay a larger share into the pension system. But, he said the cost shift must be phased in over time.

"If you do it, it might have to be long term," Edgar said.

Edgar said the problems should be addressed, not only to shore up the state budget, but to help retirees.

"I know a lot of retirees are very scared," Edgar said. "Some of them are very low income. They've been promised this. They had worked for 30 years understanding this is what they are going to get. That has caused a lot of fear."

"There is no silver bullet on this thing. There is no quick fix," Edgar said. "It's going to take a long time, I think, for this to get resolved."

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