Don Harmon has faith in Springfield politicians to do the right thing. He told a gathering of constituents, Friday morning, that he was "optimistic" genuine fixes to the state's pension plan will be made and before an actual "pension crisis" comes to pass. From his statement to a large crowd at the Business and Civic Council at the Carleton Hotel, it would seem that we have different definitions of a crisis.
We'd say that a state regularly facing downgrades on its debt is in crisis. A state that can't pay its bills to social service providers in a timely way is in crisis. A state that raises income taxes by $6 billion annually and is just barely keeping pace with added pension demands is in crisis. A state controlled on all levels by a single political party that still can't pass pension reform is in crisis.
Harmon, the Democratic state senator from Oak Park, asked for patience as he implied that it can't be a crisis if the state has never missed a pension check for a retired teacher or state trooper. Respectfully, we'd say that is a politician's definition of crisis, not the sober assessment of a taxpayer who is paying much more to the state, lacks a pension of his own and still hasn't seen a true solution to a grievous problem.
Harmon offered a worthy tutorial to the assembled and made valid points, often underreported in the media, about progress the state has made in shrinking its head count of employees and the low- to mid-range point that Illinois' income tax is set at. That the head count was inflated for decades and that having higher income taxes isn't the goal, doesn't change the truth that progress has been made. That such progress has been made and we're still in this pickle is troubling.
Sen. Harmon seems sincere when he says the current fight between House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton is a sincere difference of political philosophies. Seems implicit though that the very sincerity of this dispute makes most other static in the capitol a political charade. But that is another issue. Madigan and Cullerton have to find a path to resolving the pension crisis. Sen. Harmon has faith in them. We don't. We pray he is correct.