It's election season in Oak Park with a primary election of state senators and representatives around the corner. Something else is around the corner too. Gov. Pat Quinn and Senate Majority leader John Cullerton are floating their proposal to cure the chronic underfunding of the state pension fund.
Remember the state pension fund — the one underfunded by over $80 billion, the most underfunded pension fund in the nation with only about 43 cents put away for every dollar that should be there? The one that our Illinois legislators and governors (when they weren't headed to jail) failed to fund over the last two decades? The huge state liability that is in large part responsible for the state's deteriorating credit rating?
But now there's a solution forming in Springfield — a solution so elegant and simple, only an Illinois politician could have thought of it.
The solution, dear friends, is you.
That's right, Oak Park and River Forest real estate taxpayers, you will be left with the tab for the state's failure to keep its promise to pay its share of the enormous teacher pension fund gap.
Here is the reasoning: In Chicago, the teacher pension obligations are funded by two sources: the teachers themselves and city taxpayers through the Chicago Public Schools. Long ago, some long-gone legislators, whom no one can name, came up with a different deal for suburban and downstate teachers.
As a result, suburban and downstate teacher pension obligations are funded by teacher contributions, a tiny bit by school districts (i.e. local taxpayers), but a big chunk is paid by the state. This, our legislative leaders now say, gave the local school districts carte blanch to negotiate high pension payments to teachers which the school districts did not have to pay because the obligation was passed on to the state.
But the state has had its own passive-aggressive response to school-district pension shenanigans: It has failed to make anything approaching its full contribution for decades, so now we have today's multibillion-dollar shortfall.
Here is where it gets interesting: The Governor and Senate leader Cullerton are saying it's unfair that suburban school districts took advantage of state laws and dumped the funding obligation on the legislature. Remember, Chicago has long been liable for its own teacher obligations.
The solution? Wipe the pension-funding obligation off the state's books and dump decades of obligations back on the local school districts. Got it? The pension obligations that the state should have been making will be the obligation of our local school districts.
But wait: Our school districts don't have that kind of money sitting around. So the obligation will fall on? Who else? You and me, the local real estate taxpayers. And that's the way we do things in Illinois politics these days.
So my question to our local state senators and representatives who are running for election in the upcoming primary? Where do you stand on this issue and do you deserve our votes?
Answer Book 2019
To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.
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