Next month’s election will be a pivotal moment not only for the nation but our state. On the ballot is a progressive, graduated income tax measure to give the politicians that gave us this unbearable pension debt problem more money to squander. Vote No.

The Illinois Constitutional Convention in 1970 voted in favor of the present-day pension clause that states government employee retirement benefits shall not be “diminished or impaired.” Shall not be impaired or diminished. Can you read this, shuttered business and restaurants owners and your staff on Lake Street? Tell us if your benefits or paychecks have been impaired or diminished during this crisis. Or perhaps the construction on Lake Street will be over shortly and business will be back in January?

In Illinois, cities and local governments have been struggling for years, wondering if the next hike in sales tax, user fees and/or property taxes will pass to help shore up their finances. Financial watchdogs and credit agencies have told our leaders to get our financial house in order multiple times. Our politicians haven’t listened. In the mid-’90s, Illinois had a pension obligation of around $20 billion. Today our pension obligation is over $130 billion, the highest in the nation. Congratulations on a job well done, Illinois.

Our Democratic state leaders from the governor on down, think this is a revenue issue, hence the ballot measure. I and others agree this is a big-time spending issue that is bringing our state to its knees. 

Since the early 2000s, Democrats have controlled our state government and done nothing to rein in our pension debt. Each year it grows larger with no end in sight. In 2003, Governor Blagojevich borrowed $10 billion to shore up the pension and failed. In later years, lawmakers skipped payments while the pension debt grew. In 2011, state income taxes increased 67 percent for four years to balance budgets and clean up our financials. It didn’t work. 

Democratic politicians in California and New York asked for and received support from their public unions to cut employee paychecks to help with state finances to assure no layoffs or furloughs during the crisis. What did Illinois get from their public employees? Nothing. Instead these employees got a guaranteed 2 percent contract raise on July 1. Earlier this spring, our state finances were so bad the Illinois Democratic Senate leadership wrote our Congressional delegation asking for $40 billion in federal aid for COVID-19 with $10 billion for the pension debt. As the old political saying goes, “never let a good crisis go to waste.” 

The average family of four in Illinois make $63,000 a year but has a $76,000 pension obligation. Our leadership has put its citizens in fiscal handcuffs. Enough is enough. The state lost over 800,000 residents in the last decade. Passing the graduated income tax measure won’t be a draw for companies to come to Illinois much less a reason for citizens to stay. 

Here’s an idea: how about a quid pro quo measure? We accept an income tax increase if we can vote to change the state’s Constitution and get rid of long-term guaranteed pay and pension benefits for a 401K type plan?

We cannot continue to feed this beast without pension reform. Vote No until we get a chance to vote on the guaranteed contracts for public employees.

Jim Gotti is a resident of Oak Park.

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