A costly wait for election day
Gov. Pat Quinn says the unfunded liability of the state's public pension plans is growing by $12.6 million a day. Do our legislators care?
Back in May, while the General Assembly still was in session, everyone of importance acknowledged that legislators had no choice but to pass legislation addressing the serious financial problems surrounding Illinois' public pensions.
Nothing happened, and the Legislature adjourned, prompting Gov. Pat Quinn to announced that he would immediately begin working to carve out an agreement with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders.
Nothing happened, and now it's July. Gov. Quinn says he's still pushing for action, noting earlier this week that "summertime is a good time to act" and warning that "legislators have to be on their toes."
"This is a matter that has been confounding our state for decades, and it must be resolved, now," he said.
It is, of course, important that the Legislature address this issue. Illinois' public pensions are underfunded by more than $80 billion, and the problem is rapidly getting worse.
By Quinn's estimate, the underfunding grows by $12.6 million each day — an extra $378 million just for June.
So time should be of the essence. Unfortunately, it's not.
A top legislative lieutenant to Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan this week said she doesn't expect legislators to act on the pension issue until after the November elections, another four months minimum.
State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat and a member of Quinn's pension committee, acknowledged the delay is "not ideal," a gross understatement, but is unavoidable because of a dispute between Democrats and Republicans over a proposal to shift part of teachers' pension costs from the state to local school districts.
There are a number of other difficult issues under discussion — cutting back pensioners' cost of living increases, raising the retirement age and increasing employee contributions — that have candidates in the fall election nervous. They prefer to wait until they won't be accountable to the voters before taking action.
Quinn could not be more correct about the need for action now. But he's not on the fall ballot, and his futile pronouncements show how little influence he has over legislative leaders.