Legislature losing focus on pensions?

2012-12-23T06:00:00Z Legislature losing focus on pensions?By KURT ERICKSON Herald-Review.com
December 23, 2012 6:00 am  • 

The upcoming lame duck session of the Illinois General Assembly is beginning to look like a Christmas tree.

What had started out as a weeklong get-together aimed at finally fixing the state’s pension systems has suddenly become packed with many shiny baubles.

As things stand right now, lawmakers also could attempt to tackle gay marriage, gambling expansion and medical marijuana.

To be sure, leaders of the House and Senate are experts at ramming big issues through their chambers in short amounts of time, but the additional issues could be in danger of toppling the whole tree, leaving the matter of pension reform once again unfinished.

Quinn’s underlings are trying to keep their boss’s eye on the pension reform prize.

Last week, they released information outlining how state universities and college students will be affected by the ongoing squeeze on state spending because of an unchecked rise in pension payments.

At Southern Illinois University, for example, there may be nearly 500 fewer students receiving grants from the state’s Monetary Award Program, which helps lower income students with skyrocketing tuition costs.

Southern Illinois, like other schools, has gotten about 12 percent less from the state each year than it did in 2009.

At Illinois State University, an estimated 400 fewer students will receive MAP grants in the coming year.

About 300 fewer students each at Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois University will be left without MAP aid, according to the governor’s budget office.

Such is life when a giant orange cartoon python named “Squeezy” has wrapped itself around the dome of the Statehouse.

Outside experts have taken notice.

Last week, Moody’s Investors Service placed the “long-term ratings of all Illinois public universities under review for possible downgrade.”

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford said the potential downgrade, as well as the continued deterioration of the state’s overall credit rating, should be enough to prompt the players to put a pension overhaul on the books.

“This should serve as a wakeup call once and for all,” Rutherford said.

As last week was coming to a close, there appeared to be some recognition that the lame duck session agenda was becoming way too crowded.

Quinn, who had made loud demands for an assault weapons ban in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings, was backing off his earlier call for something to be done during the lame duck session.

Rather, his staff said, he is hopeful of doing something “in the coming months.”

MINIMUM WAGE: Just to keep things interesting, there also is talk that the Illinois Senate could consider an increase in the state’s minimum wage.

It’s been known for months that state Sen. Kim Lightford, D-Maywood, is interested in moving forward on her plan to raise the current $8.25 per hour rate every year by 50 cents plus inflation until it reaches $10.65 per hour. After that, it would be adjusted annually for inflation.

If inflation were to rise by its current 2 percent rate, the minimum wage would top $12.50 an hour within five years, which would be more than $5 per hour higher than neighboring states that use the federal rate of $7.25 per hour as their base.

Business groups said the proposed increase would wipe out 21,000 jobs and reduce economic output by roughly $4.5 billion. Moreover, an estimated 67 percent of the jobs lost would disappear from the small-business sector.

“Raising the minimum wage will destroy entry-level jobs and drive labor costs upward at a time when the demand for labor is already weak,” said Kim Clarke Maisch, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. “It will affect small businesses that can least afford higher labor costs and they’ll respond by finding ways to serve their customers with fewer employees.”

REPRESENTATIVE WISDOM: As he enters his final days in Congress, U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson has been reflecting on his lengthy career as an elected official.

The Urbana Republican, who never lost an election in 44 years, had this advice to his successor, Rodney Davis of Taylorville:

“You can’t forget where you came from,” Johnson said. “Stay humble and make sure you remember it is the people back home are the ones who sent you there.”


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(3) Comments

  1. Everclear
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    Everclear - December 24, 2012 1:15 pm
    Roscow - First of all university employees pay into their pension, which is their only retirement benefit. They do not pay into SS, therefore they do not receive at retirement. How about you? I am sure you pay into SS and possibly a pension. Should I say you should not receive those? The state pension funds are broke because Mr. Madigan, ex-govs in prison and general assy members decided to move the obligated pension payments to entitlement programs. It takes 8 years for university employees to become vested and 30 years for full pension benefits. General assy members get health insurance for life and pension just after one term. Also, policemen and firefighters receive full pension after only 20 years of service. So now that you have some facts I hope you reconsider your comments. May I suggest you educate yourself first before you make ridiculous uninformed statements.
  2. Everclear
    Report Abuse
    Everclear - December 24, 2012 12:55 pm
    Roscow - Obviously you did not know that university employees only retirement is their pension, which they pay into. It takes 8 years to be vested and 30 years for full pension benefits. They do not get SS since they do not pay into it. I am sure you pay into SS and possibly a pension. Should I say that you should not get SS when you retire? I agree the state is broke because Mr. Madigan, past ex-govs in prison and general assembly members moved the obligated money from pensions to entitlement programs, therefore resulting in underfunded pensions. Instead of being upset with university employees, maybe you should direct it to the general assembly members who receive free health insurance and pension for life after one term. Maybe next time you will educate yourself before you make uninformed statements.
  3. Roscow
    Report Abuse
    Roscow - December 23, 2012 10:20 am
    Roll back wages and ridiculous pensions at all universities and spend the money on the kids. All staff faculty at all levels should be ashamed. You've lived high on the state tax payers and look at your systems. There broke. Wait you don't know how to fix broke cause your union and state. You only know how to spend and ask for more. Your all a disgrace to the system the programs and most importantly the kids
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