After this week’s approval of pension reforms by the Illinois General Assembly ended years of discussion, what should we expect next?
Probably, more talk about pensions.
Even though the Illinois House and Senate approved the pension reform bill Tuesday and Gov. Pat Quinn signed it Thursday, the issue is far from complete.
Unions representing public employees say they will oppose the bill in court, based on its constitutionality. The unions will argue that the state constitution prevents any change that diminishes the value of pensions. That question will be settled by the Illinois Supreme Court.
The law is scheduled to go into effect June 1, but it’s not clear whether a court challenge will delay its implementation.
The pension reform bill received 92 “yes” votes in the Senate and House, along with the governor’s signature. In the Central Illinois region, the only public official brave enough to vote for pension reform was Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington. Taxpayers should thank him for his courageous stand.
The reasons other officials didn’t vote for the bill vary. Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, believed members of the judiciary should have been included in the reforms. State Rep. Adam Brown, R-Decatur, said the bill was more than 300 pages long, and he had less than 36 hours to review it. State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said key parties were left out of the process and the “constitutionality of the measure is deeply suspect. …” State Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, a retired schoolteacher, said she didn’t think the measure was right. “A promise made is a promise kept,” she said. Others voting against the bill included Sens. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington; Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet; Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap; and Reps. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth; Josh Harms, R-Watseka, and Keith Sommer, R-Morton.
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Whatever their reasons for opposing the pension reform bill, taxpayers should question why these elected officials placed the needs of public employees ahead of the taxpayers. The 67 percent increase in the state income tax, which many of these same officials voted against, expires at the end of 2014. The Democrat-controlled legislature so far has made no attempts to prepare for that eventuality.
This pension reform bill certainly doesn’t guarantee that the tax will sunset as expected. But if the bill would have failed, the tax increase would have been cast in concrete.
The pension system in its current form is simply unsustainable, placing a burden on personal and business taxpayers that cannot be tolerated. Without some changes in the state budget, Illinois will be mired in its current muck of no or slow growth. A “no” vote Tuesday was a vote for maintaining the status quo, charting a path of a state going nowhere.
The bill approved Tuesday gives Illinois a chance, with a lot of work still to be done, to pull itself out of its current spiral. Unfortunately, too many of our elected officials failed to recognize the opportunity to take that step.
At the same time, we congratulate the 92 elected officials, including Sen. Bill Brady, who had the courage to do what was necessary.