CHAMPAIGN — Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford said he was cautiously optimistic the state could come up with a plan for pension reform, perhaps even by elections this fall.
Speaking before the Champaign West Rotary at the Round Barn Banquet Center on Wednesday, Rutherford said "the biggest issue we need to face ... bar none ... is the state public pension system."
Rutherford, a Republican elected to the treasurer's office in November 2010, began his current term in January 2011. Ever since he took office, he said, he's been using the microphone at local meetings across the state to deliver the message that the "most fundamental problem" of the state is its unfunded pension liabilities. And reform can be in sight.
"It can be done if the political will is there," Rutherford said. "The public employee unions have strong influence on the General Assembly ... and members are a little goosey right now," he said.
The General Assembly wrapped up its regular session a few weeks ago without passing any major pension reforms.
In Rutherford's opinion, "the wheels came off" when the debate focused on whether or not local school districts, outside of the Chicago Public Schools, should start paying the employer's share of teacher pensions. (In Chicago, that already happens.)
When asked if part of the expenses should be shifted to local schools, as proposed earlier this spring, Rutherford said if that piece was going to be debated, then "put it all on the table," such as how special education funding, transportation and other funding is distributed between Chicago and downstate Illinois. "I don't believe those are equitable either," he said.
"The government has got to do what's right," he said. In the end, any reforms to the pension system must be fair to current retirees, current employees already in the system and those who will be in the system, Rutherford said.