Pension reform bills advance

Opinion: Columns

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State Sen. Don Harmon

It seems my One View piece in the March 13 Wednesday Journal [Pension reform is on its way, Viewpoints] has stirred up a spirited conversation on between those favoring deep cuts in public pensions and those who believe public employees are entitled to promised defined benefits upon retirement.

This conversation underscores that the principles of fiscal responsibility, equity for public employees and constitutionality all must be incorporated in pension reform legislation that can actually pass the General Assembly.

We are making progress: the Illinois Senate Executive Committee that I chair advanced two major pension reform bills to the Senate floor this past week — virtually as the March 14 WJ was hitting Oak Parkers' mailboxes. It's noteworthy that both ends of the spectrum on pensions found plenty not to like in these bills. Both were opposed strenuously by organized labor. One was even more vociferously opposed by civic watchdog groups. One passed with bipartisan support; the other was carried almost entirely by Democrats.

I'd also like to respond to those who say the current Democratic majorities in the General Assembly bear ultimate blame for underfunding of the pension system. Since I took office in 2003, when Democrats took control of the Senate and the governor's office, we have paid $36.9 billion into the pension systems. That's $9.8 billion more than we were required to contribute under the deeply flawed 1995 plan passed during a time of Republican legislative majorities.

Nor did we ever take a pension "holiday" — that is, skip a year's payment to the pension system. In some years we contributed less than required by the 1995 law, but in the remaining years we contributed significantly more.

I'm not going to pin our current mess entirely on Republicans, but the fact that we're only now heading in the right direction is an indication of the depth of the problem created by the 1995 legislation signed by Governor Edgar.

Finally, I appreciate that Wednesday Journal saw fit to call out my One View piece in an editorial — even if I was gently scolded for "finger-jabbing" at, among others, the Chicago Tribune editorial board. I would merely point out that on the same day WJ published my One View, a Chicago Tribune editorial called for the resignation of any member of the General Assembly who voted for that 1995 pension funding plan that I criticized last week and its "slippery actuarial practices." I hope that puts my comments in perspective.

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.

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Posted: March 24th, 2013 5:11 PM

@B. Samuels. No thanks, all of us pay plenty in taxes and I believe that your suggestion would cripple the JOBS of our Chicago exchanges. So, a lose-lose. I also don't see why I (or any one) need to pay more so someone can retire at 57 with a pension of $100K per year - with COLA. Mr. Harmon, I've previously been critical of your non-actions, but I do wish to commend you for the two recent communications via WJ. Next? Didn't the House just pass a bill on pension reform? So, now it's YOUR turn!

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: March 24th, 2013 3:57 PM

Here's another idea to raise money and solve the so-called fiscal crisis. A tax of .01 %, one one-hundredth of one percent (that's a dollar on $10,000), on stock transactions, by the most conservative of measures ?" after accounting for any fall-off in volume in trading that might result from levying the tax ?" would raise at least $40 billion in new revenue annually for the State of Illinois. In fact, based on the notional value of all trading in 2012, the figure would have been $80.5 billion.

Results, not political rhetoric  

Posted: March 20th, 2013 4:59 PM

Mr Harmon: That you have the nerve to come to us in 2013 with more to say about the perpetual political blame game than any results on behalf of the people of your district and state speaks volumes about your priorities. Forget 1995 and 2003. It 2013, yet our state's increasingly grave financial situation seems yet to be only so much political grist for you. What's clear is that, year after year, you and your colleagues of both parties put politics over real progress for the people of Illinois.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: March 20th, 2013 2:09 PM

The State needs money? How about pushing for a progressive income tax like most states have and closing some of the tax gaps that large corporations have? It is immoral that there is a sales tax on food. State employees should not be blamed for the failure to tax the rich at higher rates. There's plenty of waste and fraud too. When Blago gave Calvin Giles a job in Springfield you know there are folks that need to be let go. And if there are any IL National Guard overseas bring them home!

bob williams from Lakebay, WA  

Posted: March 19th, 2013 11:03 PM

Sen. Harmon is loose with the facts. In the past 10 years Illinois has unfunded the required annual contribution to pensions by $5.4 billion. IN addition the states has issued $17.2 billion in pension obligation bonds. It is time to end the defined pension system and switch to a defined contribution system for all employees. Taxpayers cannot afford to continue to pay the bills for the legislature not properly funding pensions.


Posted: March 19th, 2013 10:46 PM

But you tried to Don.

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