What should we expect now that the Illinois General Assembly’s approval of pension reforms has ended years of pension reform discussion?
Probably more talk about pensions.
Even though the Illinois House and Senate approved the pension reform bill on Tuesday and Gov. Pat Quinn signed it on Thursday, the issue is far from complete.
Unions representing public employees say they will oppose the bill in court, based on its constitutionality. The unions will argue that the state constitution prevents any change that diminishes the value of pensions. That question will be settled by the Illinois Supreme Court.
The law is scheduled to go into effect on June 1, but it’s not clear if a court challenge will delay its implementation.
The pension reform bill received 92 yes votes in the Senate and the House and the governor’s signature. In the Central Illinois region, the only public official brave enough to vote for pension reform was Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington. Taxpayers should thank him for his courageous stand. Sen. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap, also voted "yes."
The reasons other officials didn’t vote for the bill vary. Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, believed that members of the judiciary should have been included in the reforms. State Rep. Adam Brown, R-Decatur, said the bill was more than 300 pages long and he had less than 36 hours to review it. State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said key parties were left out of the process and the “constitutionality of the measure is deeply suspect …” State Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, a retired schoolteacher, said she didn’t think the measure was right. “A promise made is a promise kept,” she said. Others voting against the bill were Sens. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington; Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet; and Reps. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth; Josh Harms, R-Watseka; and Keith Sommer, R-Morton.
Whatever their reasons for opposing the pension reform bill, taxpayers should question why these elected officials placed the needs of public employees ahead of the taxpayers. The 67 percent increase in the state income tax, which many of these same officials voted against, expires at the end of 2014. The Democrat-controlled legislature so far has made no attempts to prepare for that eventuality. This pension reform bill certainly doesn’t guarantee that the tax will sunset as expected. But if the bill would have failed, the tax increase would have been cast in concrete.
The pension system in its current state is simply unsustainable, placing a burden on personal and business taxpayers that cannot be tolerated. Without some changes in the state budget, Illinois will be mired in its current muck of no or slow growth. A no vote on Tuesday was a vote for maintaining the status quo, charting a path of a state going nowhere.
The bill approved Tuesday gives Illinois a chance — with a lot of work still to be done -to pull itself out of its current spiral. Unfortunately, too many of our elected officials failed to recognize the opportunity to take that step.
At the same time, we congratulate the 92 elected officials — including Sen. Brady — who had the courage to do what was necessary.