Pension reform is on its way

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Don Harmon

The seemingly endless debate over public pension reform in Illinois entered a new dimension for me recently when a retired teacher grabbed me at an event in Oak Park and pleaded, "Will you please go ahead and fix the pensions? I don't care anymore if I get less — I just can't keep hearing about what you might do to us!"

I've heard from many constituents frustrated by the pace of pension reform. Some hear the drumbeat from hedge fund captains dabbling in politics and certain editorial boards — who see the only path to reform as slashing "overly generous" pension benefits to "lazy" public employees.

They can't understand why we in the General Assembly don't "just do it."

On the other hand, fierce advocates of defined-benefit pension plans refuse to touch benefits and believe the only solution is to raise taxes yet again and plow the money into underfunded pensions.

Stuck in the middle are public employees, retirees and, mostly, schoolteachers who contributed to their pensions in every paycheck. Many are not eligible for Social Security benefits (because of their public pensions) and are scared to death we will shatter their already fragile notion of "retirement security."

We need a balanced, common-sense approach to pension reform. This will include both reforming benefits and establishing adequate funding of the pension system over the long term.

We all agree that our pension systems are woefully underfunded and that the required state payments are crowding out funding for education, social services, law enforcement, transportation and other vital state programs. Beyond that, the consensus fractures and we enter uncharted policy territory, populated by strong constituencies with rigid but divergent views.

But we are going to reach our destination, likely during the current spring session. The Illinois Senate is scheduled to start moving legislation this week that will begin to address the most intractable dimensions of the pension issue.

The state's pension funds were about as poorly funded the day I was born as they are today. So what's different now?

Mainly three things:

We're on the leading edge of the Baby Boomer retirement wave, which is a legitimate cause for concern about costs to taxpayers.

The rating agencies that assign risk levels to state-issued bonds are now focusing on the pension funding issue. While there are good reasons for this, it's also a defensive overreaction by the rating agencies, whose failures triggered both the mortgage foreclosure crisis and the Great Recession. In reality, there's very little risk associated with state bonds. Illinois has never missed a bond payment and I'm confident it never will.

The current underfunding "crisis" results in large measure from wholly arbitrary fiscal requirements enacted in response to the pension "crisis" of the mid-1990s. Republican majorities in the General Assembly "discovered" in 1995 that the pension systems were underfunded (as they had been for decades). They pushed through a plan requiring us to have on hand 90 percent of the money needed for all future obligations to retirees and current employees. That's a fine goal, but about as realistic as a family setting aside in one lump sum all the money it needs to pay off the mortgage, provide college tuition for each child and finance retirement and long-term care in one payment.

That General Assembly delayed the pain of its plan for more than a decade by structural underfunding of the pensions and setting annual payments that weren't sufficient even to keep pace with the growth in our pension liability.

In 2002, the year before I joined the Senate, the state's annual contribution to the pension systems was less than $800 million. This next fiscal year, we are approaching $8 billion — a 10-fold increase.

There is no rational basis for this level of payment. It's an arbitrary target set by Republican legislative majorities almost 20 years ago. As a consequence, annual pension payments force us to reduce funding for every other government responsibility.

One of the reasons I'm confident we'll enact significant pension reform this spring is because of the significant progress we've already been making:

First, we did the easy things. We eliminated most of the pension benefit boondoggles where political insiders rigged the system to fatten up their own pensions. We stopped the practice of school districts and universities inflating salaries of administrators and teachers as they approached retirement to plump up their pensions and stick the state with the tab.

Second, we did the hard things. We enacted the most sweeping pension reforms in the nation. All public employees who joined the work force after 2010 will receive pension benefits significantly less than those provided public employees hired before 2010.

Now we are taking on the nearly impossible things: debating and negotiating a package of benefit reforms affecting pre-2010 employees.

Looming overhead is the Illinois Constitution, which says membership in any public pension system is an enforceable contractual relationship whose benefits "shall not be diminished or impaired."

The framers of the 1970 Constitution knew the pension systems were woefully underfunded even back then. They understood that without protection, politicians would try to solve the problem by taking away benefits. By making membership in a pension system a contractual relationship, the Constitution protects employees and retirees from unilateral legislative changes — while leaving the door open for negotiated contractual amendments. Any pension reform bill that ignores these principles of contract law is not going to pass muster with the Illinois Supreme Court.

Last year, the Senate passed a pension benefit reform bill consistent with Constitutional principles that would save money — without jeopardizing security for retirees. It did not have sufficient support in the House, but the Senate is trying again.

The realities of democracy can try our patience. But I believe we will reach our destination on pension reform. And when we do, some editorial boards may call it inadequate while some public employees may call it punitive. No one will be happy.

And that will be a sign the General Assembly did its job.

Senator Don Harmon, a lifelong Oak Park resident, is a Democrat representing the 39th Illinois Senate District. He is President Pro Tem of the Illinois Senate.

Reader Comments

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muntz  

Posted: June 17th, 2013 10:56 AM

Any financial system where withdrawals exceed contributions (both individual and state) + investment gains will always fail. The math may be cold and cruel, but it does not lie. The entitlement mindset will change, either voluntarily through "reduced" benefits or involuntarily (system default).

David from Peoria Ill.  

Posted: June 16th, 2013 10:52 AM

State constitutions can be changed. And will be on this matter. Unions don't think about that. Pension reform will have to be done. Our states are suffering because of them. Other services are being cut because of them. There are alot more people that don't get pensions then do, so I agree that people will stand up eventually. If a rally was held at my state capitol, I would be the first in line. That is when something will get done. Draw the media attention to the cause.

john from des. moines   

Posted: June 16th, 2013 10:14 AM

Something will get done about this when the American people wake up and rebel. Better be soon, or we will turn into Greece. Unions fought for their rights in Wisc. When are non-union people going to fight for their rights. It's our tax paying dollars funding their retirements. That's crazy. Do you know how much money you have to save to get a $2500 monthy check. Lots of people don't even make that much working for a paycheck. Sooner or later Americans will wake up and put an end to it.

Larry  

Posted: June 13th, 2013 6:51 PM

I just want to weigh in on the public pensions problem in Illinois. As a person who will only retire when I save enough of my own money to do so, it makes me sick to see how easily teachers, cops and firefighters get plush pensions after 20 years of work or so. I'm forced to pay my taxes for these public leeches - BEFORE I'm even able to save for my own retirement. This is not fair. I hope that all public employees get put onto 401k type investment vehicles ASAP. Save and pay for YOUR own

Laura Maddox  

Posted: March 21st, 2013 2:46 PM

Don Harmon - a totally legitimate voice.

Unfortunately  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 8:00 PM

@Pensioner. You don't believe that if "reform" doesn't occur - that the pension system will go broke? If it goes "broke," then everyone gets a lot less. Also, the mortgage note doesn't get serially "adjusted" via union lobbyists. And did you notice how many people walked away from that mortgage contract the past five years? I strongly suggest that the unions quickly get smart and seek reform - before they end up like the depositors in Cyprus...and next will be Greece, Spain, Italy.....

Penshioner  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 5:01 PM

I don't know how much Dist.200 employees pay into their pensions. I do know I pay 10% into mine. And would pay more if required. It is not a state pension either. As I said, reform is needed but not to current employees. It is the state constitution that dictates it can't be touched. Yes I was comparing a mortgage contract to an employee contract in both cases both sides have to live up to their end. M

Unfortunately  

Posted: March 16th, 2013 1:47 AM

@Chi/Pensr, compared to mortgage "contract"? I'll begin by asking if it's still true that OPRF teachers pay ZIP toward their pension while D97 teachers pay nearly 10%? So, two different "contracts" there. More? That every year the union lobbyists demanded "changes" from Springfield and so the age and accrual formulas kept getting better and better for the teachers. How about the bumps, spikes and other "changes" that the unions made - that Springfield had to stop? You guys ALWAYS sought changes!

King Louie  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 10:23 PM

@Adam. How DARE you "speak truth to power" regarding the looming insolvency of the wonderfully managed state of Illinois? I have a solution for you and so I suggest that you wear some protective covering around your neck! I simply can NOT have you peasants starting to talk like this about myself and other members of the King's family! Hmm, I wonder if you serfs will next start petitioning for a new amendment in the constitution about pensions? We should instead triple your taxes - unworthy one!

Adam from Abingdon  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 8:18 PM

More good news, if Illinois credit rating is downgraded a few more times due to no reform then Illinois will no longer be able to borrow money. Not only would that cause the state to turn into Greece, if would mean an instant default on pensions, and many other things.

Adam from Abingdon  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 8:16 PM

The fact is these pensions are completely unsustainable without complete reform. Numerous credit rating firms have said the pensions will begin defaulting by 2020 without major reform. There are not enough taxes or cuts to save the pensions as they are, reform must happen. The state constitution law means nothing when there is simply not enough money. The state would not keep paying out pensions to the point of collapsing, which would in turn default on pensions anyway. Wake up people.

Pension Envy from Chicago  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 7:57 PM

Just My Opinion, your assertion that state employees and teachers took lower salaries in return for fat pensions may have been true in the 1950's, but that has not been the case for the last 40+ years. If you do a salary search by profession, you will find that state employees are compensated as well as their private sector counter parts. Now through in their pensions and cadillac benefits and these public sector employees are more highly compensated then their private sector counterparts.

Adam from Abingdon  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 7:52 PM

The fact is with no reform on current pensions being paid out, they will default in time. Illinois cannot spend 50% of its budget on pensions, period. Reality is going to hit the unions in the face very hard here soon. For those of you who want no reform, get ready for default.

Laughable  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 7:08 PM

Ah the darn teachers who make 100K to put up with those shining smiles day in and day out. The teachers who spent tens-of-thousands of $$ for their education to educate these lovely children. Why should a doctor makes 3x that much just because of their schooling? We should have social health care, free to everyone and then your taxes can pay for those mean ole teachers. Oh by the way add the police and fire to that pile. They don't deserve it either. Or any government employee. Who needs them.

King Louie III  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 6:58 PM

The solution is pension reform, union over-haul, ousting the current political figures. Pay what is owed to avoid fighting a losing battle. Quit blaming individuals for asking (or demanding) and receiving what they bargained for, and quit whining because some one elses pile is bigger than yours. This isn't a new issue it is just an easy target right now.

Pensioner from Chicago  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 6:49 PM

@King Louie, you obviously get it. Your sarcastic wit is fantastic. And please keep in mind besides the mere pittance I choose to toss to the masses, I also paid and pay the same amount if not more taxes than anyone else. On top of that, when your bank comes to take your house please refer to your contract and tell them they can't have it. Just like the contract I have says you can't change it. So you see omniscient king, fix the future. But dont touch what I am owed.

King Louie  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 6:22 PM

Ah, jmo, so eloquently stated - but what is your solution - IL is bankrupt? I say that we again raise taxes on the peasants - agree? But how do you think that they'll accept the "lower salaries" argument when we make more than they do, have better benefits, get summers off, 2 weeks at Xmas, one week in the spring, retire much earlier than they do and with a pension that has a present value in the millions? And, dang, we can't use the guillotine because we need them to keep slaving away for us!

King Louie  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 5:54 PM

Yes, "just my opinion," I agree completely! Sure, as you wrote, the pensions for you and I are "a bad deal for tax payers," but we and our union buddies/lobbyists always knew this to be true and so we kept it a secret for as long as we could. But, alas, the party is over and now we need to shout our "it's not fair!" when the taxpayers cry "I'm broke!" and so we keep our wealth. And "lower salaries" for us? Ha, OPRF average pay is $100K! And make sure that Harmon keeps his pension - we need him!

JMG  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 5:52 PM

Then the rules changed. It wasn't lower income jobs anymore but high paid salaries with generous benes. Years of accrued sick days, pension bumps have skewed pension obligations. Your representatives looked out for you and themselves. So pension envy is the backlash of a hoodwinked public.

just my opinion  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 5:22 PM

Even though the pension system as administered in the past is a bad deal for tax payers, I don't believe that allows us to go back and make changes. Those pension benefits were part of a compensation package that was negotiated and people took lower salaries in exchange for higher pension benefits. And tax payers made that trade to pay later instead of paying in the present. Reform should be part of any compensation packages moving forward but we can't go back and renegotiate those contracts.

King Louie  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 5:08 PM

Pensioner, your sense of Noblesse oblige is something I can relate to and it warms my heart! You and I perfectly understand our role with the peasants and that we NEED to share a small portion of the wealth that we take from them in order to minimize the slings and arrows of their lowly lives. I'll have my wife share some of her bread and cake recipes with you and all of us can attend the next 1% charitable gala together! Remember, we have to keep them happy in order to be taxed for our benefit!

Tom M from Oak Park  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 4:59 PM

WOW. Thanks for clearing it up. The pension mess is all because of the Republicans. Never mind that Mike Madigan and his stooges like Don Harmon are totally in charge in this one-party state.

Pensioner from Chicago  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 4:36 PM

I know exactly what I wrote and how it sounds. I chose a profession that required an education and a profession that also had a pension. I make no bones about it. And I know how lucky I am to have been blessed with such a job. I give to local charities and fund raisers. I don't complain about paying my share of support for other pensioners nor for you to receive social security or whatever government support you may receive, in the way of deferments, investments etc.

Unfortunately  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 4:17 PM

@Pensioner. Do you have any idea how "lacking" your posts read? You are comparing $100K pensions, starting at age 56-57 with social security benefits?!? Really?!? Those same "small businesses are forced to pay" for your salary and benefits thru property taxes and IL income taxes. That the 67% IL tax increase went solely to your pensions? You and your unions lobbied politicians for pensions unavailable any where else in this country and you expect us to say "thank you sir, may I have another?"

Pensioner from Chicago  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 4:03 PM

It is tax free until you start collecting then it is at a reduced rate becuase it is typically less per year than you make currently. Social Security is a program that takes tax dollars of mine and goes toward supporting others. Live long enough and you will get more than you put into it. It is all just a shell game but again pension envy prevails. I dont have a problem with reform for the future but not what was promised when I started working.

Speedway from Oak Park  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 3:10 PM

Pensioner, sorry your comment doesn't work for me. People with 401K defer the tax, but it is not tax free. The price of goods goes up for everyone not just you. You have been blessed with a pension that most likely outstrips by far what people on ss will receive, max on ss right now is $30,000/yr. Now sir, check out your pension and can you say we are even in the same ball park. But you know we paid about the same into our respective retirements. Like I said you have been blessed.

Pensioner from Chicgao  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 2:40 PM

It is truly ashame that the flavor of the day is to attack employees who are eligible to receive pensions. What about your hard working money that goes into a 401K and is a tax write off and therefore everyone loses money towards street repair?Or your Social Security that small businesses are forced to pay, so my cost for goods go up? Reform should be for future employees not ones who are in the system now and have been contributing for years.

Speedway from %Oak Park  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 1:43 PM

To Unfortunately, now I am pissed off. I am a nurse and I work all year, every other weekend, change shifts, work every other holiday and will receive only social security when I retire. I will get more if I work til I'm 66. The only nurses getting pensions are those working in state, county, or federal institutions, or happen to belong to a union. Probably more than 90% of nurses will only get ss and whatever they were able to save in ss. For me it will be about $1500/mo after working 31 yr

Unfortunately  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 1:28 PM

@Speedway. I agree that most of the OPRF teachers do a very good job, but I think that they are overpaid with $100K avg salaries, fantastic benefits and receiving approx. $100K pensions at 56-57 - when the rest of us are no where near retirement. Can I add that they have summers off? How about that librarians, nurses, PE teachers get the same pay and benefits as classroom teachers? Gevinson thinks that we should all have his million dollar pension? Yep, spoken like a member of the 1%!

Speedway from Oak Park  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 9:40 AM

I spoke with some of the D200 candidates last nite at the Seopco forum. By the way, about 20 people showed up. That let's you know how many OPer's have concerns about salaries at the HS. The response of Mr. Gevinson was that everyone should have a pension. Well, Mr. Gevinson we don't.

Speedway from Oak Park  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 9:33 AM

they get. Typical Oak Parker. The union members who have been promised these pensions of course think that their jobs are so important that they deserve them. Heck, if I was getting one of these pensions, I sure wouldn't want to lose it. So, we are all to blame. Nobody wants to give anything up and we are retiring baby boomers. I think a letter needs to be sent to every household in Illinois so that they can see in dollars what it will cost to fund these promises.

Speedway from Oak Park  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 9:26 AM

To reduce their pensions now would be unfair. Legislators, I believe have chosen to ignore the actuarial predictions and agreed to these enormous pensions. Union leaders fought very hard for their constituents and succeeded using strikes to push taxpayers into siding with them. Today, I have seen how we dealt with a multitude of strikes by the teachers for more pay and better benefits. Here in Oak Park even, my neighbors say the teachers here in Oak Park are great and they deserve every penny

Speedway from Oak Park  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 9:19 AM

Here is what I see. You have a large constituency of union members who have been promised by our legislators for 20+ years enormous pension benefits which most taxpayers will have to pay for. The amount of money needed to completely fund these pension promises is enormous and would probably cause most seniors to flee the state. Some of these union members have been paying into the system for 20-30 years and have saved little to nothing extra to add to their pensions.

Dylan  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 8:46 AM

Whatever is done PLEASE Senator Harmon do not do something that will be challenged in court and cost taxpayers even more. It must be something Constitutional. We can disagree on what we THINK should happen, but we do have the Constitution therefore we must work within that. Furthermore, whatever is decided you MUST Re-amortize the debt. If that is not included then we won't be fixing the problem.

Unfortunately  

Posted: March 14th, 2013 9:15 AM

@BBike. Read the synopsis. Some good suggestions, but not enough. Hybrid plan? Nope - 401K. Have IL Universities pay for the pension shortage? Umm, have you noticed that UI costs have skyrocketed recently - and you want them to charge more? You therefore want our kids to incur more debt to pay for your pension? A pension that none of them can even dream of? How about we give you back every penny that you paid, plus interest? A new twist of "do it for the children!" This is NOT "fair!"

Bill Bike from Chicago  

Posted: March 14th, 2013 7:37 AM

Please look at the IGPA (Institute for Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois) proposals, which provide a blueprint for fair pension reform instead of putting the burden on people like me, who have paid everything we were supposed to and now are threatened with draconian cuts.

Now you're serious? Prove it. from Oak Park  

Posted: March 14th, 2013 6:42 AM

I'll believe pension reform from the State of Illinois when I actually see it. After ignoring the issue for years, this feels like political posturing (imagine that from Harmon!) rather than solution-oriented governance. It's probably too little, too late anyway....where has this "leadership" been?

eatingdogfood from Chicago  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 4:52 PM

If The Democrats Didn't Give " Sweetheart Deals " To Your Public Service Union. Goon Employees To Get Reelected; You Would Have Plenty Of Money and The. Taxpayer would have Some Spare Change in His Pockets! Democratic Hustler Politicians + Corrupt Union Goons = BANKRUPTCY BABY! Time To Bring. RICO Conspiracy Charges Against The Hustler Corrupt Democrats and the. Criminal Unions!

OPRFDad  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 3:47 PM

The choice is pretty clear: either continue to provide these benefits and fund prior promised benefits at 100% or drive residents and companies out of the state thereby mortgaging the state's future. Unfortunately, these people voted themselve both outsized compensation and very generous retirement packages, and now we're all paying the price. Petition Congress to change the bankruptcy laws, bankrupt the state, and settle with pensioners for pennies on the dollar.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 3:41 PM

The problem is actuarial, just like with social security. People are living way longer and drawing down huge pensions far in excess of what was actually contributed - PONZI SCHEME. A 5% return on $1 million is $50k/yr. I'd be surprised if any teacher or state employee contributes $1 million to their pension. Very few in the real world will accumulate that kind of retirement, not to mention have it paying out that kind of money some 20 or more years in retirement.

Unfortunately  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 3:05 PM

Actually, Jim, you overlooked the major problem: bloated pensions and pension spiking. 3% COLA, too. Also, the teachers are retiring at age 56 or 57 - and thus collecting for almost as many years as they were employed. More? Most collect every penny paid within the first couple of years.....and so you have a system designed to implode. BTW, the state took "holidays" because unions lobbied that more IL money go to "education" - which went to higher pay and higher pensions - vicious circle!!!

Jim  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 2:44 PM

To know how to fix the problem we must first know what caused the problem. The problem has been caused by drastic underfunding of all state pensions except one, IMRF which, wait for it, has a mandatory funding provision. As just one example, partial pension payment holidays (SB 27) taken in FY 2006 and FY 2007 is only one example of how dramatically not contributing the required state contributions can lead to increasing the state's unfunded liability in this case by $7.1 billion in only thre

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 2:30 PM

New state employees need to be moved over to a 401k like everyone else in the real world. The existing promises need to be kept best as possible for those who have retired or are close to retiring, but anyone else needs to give up that pension ponzi scheme pipe dream. Of course, if govt stopped mooching off the productive with more and more taxes, people could afford to fund their own retirements. I'm a 1%er and will never get the level of returns these pensions provide in retirement

Adam from Abingdon  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 1:46 PM

There is no way to fully fund these pensions. There are not enough taxes or cuts in the world to do that without completely killing the state, which would lead to default anyway.

jrm from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 1:37 PM

We need some leadership in Lansing. An announcement by the governor and state senators and representatives that they will take a pension cuts FIRST is a start.

Speedway from Oak Park  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 1:20 PM

Its obvious that this pension debacle is far from over. I see and share your anger. I blame the legislators in the past who said yes to all these pension hikes. Today, this needs to be a top issue when electing the school board. Not fair to penalize union members who are retired or soon to retire on promises made. Don't think we legally can anyway.

Patricia Herrmann from Wheaton, IL  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 1:12 PM

Not only is the "pension reform" in the legislature focused on reducing benefits, but it is an immoral stealing of promised money that is the delayed wages of public employees. Focus on finding the funding to fund the pensions like every employer in Illinois finds the money to fund Social Security. It is not only an obligation, it is a promise. Find the money for Illinois to pay its bills.

Fed-Up  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 12:53 PM

Once again another patronizing epistle from our Senator Pro Tem: Let me re-cap our Senator's Letter 1.) Blame Republicans 2.) Our poor public pension pensioners will not reap the great benefits of social security what ever that will be who knows the Fed's keep moving the goal post on me 3.) Blame Bush i.e. the great recession and mortgage crisis To solve the crisis use the Great Obama language "we need a balanced, common sense approach. The only person to blame is the very people that continue t

Adam from Abingdon  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 12:19 PM

I would like to add that the state constitution should be amended because this insane law of not dimishing pensions which will not matter when there is no more money anyway. Go to a 401k plan like most of us have to and reform the pensions now getting paid out. Iowa is looking better all the time with no true fix to this.The taxpayers have already done their part. My property tax is already twice what many states have. I will not keep living here to be a slave to the unions pension payments.

OPRFDad  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 12:09 PM

Don, if property taxes go up 1 cent to pay for this, don't bother showing your face at St. Giles anymore, because you've made your choice: communist unions over the Catholic Church. Every additional cent we pay to fund these promises is a cent we can't invest in our communities. The fact is that state workers should get no more benefits than what the current funding allows. TO fund these benefits only perpetuates their outsized total compensation package at taxpayer expense.

Adam from Abingdon  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 12:00 PM

A cost shift would mean already very high property taxes would become unafforable for many people when they get raised. This is simply something that cannot happen. Illinois must find a way to reform pensions that are currently being paid out or it doesn't get the job done. Default is on its way if not. 95% of the state does not get pensions. People like me will not stick around to be taxed to death over these overly generous pensions.

Unfortunately  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 9:51 AM

Mr. Taruc is right and Mr. Lindgren is delusional. Mr. Harmon? His column is both of the above - especially when he blames the "evil Republicans" for actually trying to do something about the problem and requiring that $8B contribution, etc. Why don't he and his Dem friends propose another "Holiday?" They have been controlling everything since he's been there! Real problem? Ask Mr. Gevinson how much is his pension and at what age did he begin collecting it? Yes, THIS is why Illinois is broke!

Joni Lindgren from Elgin  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 7:19 AM

To solve the pension issue and pay what the state owes TRS, why hasn't there been a start to generate revenue?? Would that favor the Civic Committee of Chicago and the very wealthy in Illinois? I don't want to hear talk of pension reform until all of you who we trusted to do the fair thing pass a bill for a 1) graduated income tax, 2) Transaction Tax on every trade on CME/CBOT, 3) close tax loopnoles and 4) re-amortized the debt!Stop coddling the corps and wealthy!!

glen brown  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 6:45 AM

It's easier to victimize the victims once again with legislative incompetence, irresponsibility and theft, and it's much easier to transfer the python of debts (caused by the state's legislators) to the public employees, challenge a contractual obligation, and rewrite laws or policies. What's more, legislators will be following the deep, extended and corrupt tradition of Illinois politics.

Nelson Taruc from Oak Park  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 1:16 AM

Mr. Harmon, I do not share your optimism. In 2005, you voted for the questionable "pension holidays" that worsened the problems Illinois faces today. The rosy rates used to estimate investment returns are too high. And as long as politicians are beholden to public employee unions, this state will NEVER have the courage to fix this mess the right way. Solutions that have worked for neighboring states ... will be ignored. But kudos on a well-written column, and good luck.

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