Editorial | Will history repeat itself?

Editorial | Will history repeat itself?

Springfield Democrats find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

Legislative Democrats generally reacted favorably to Gov. J.B. Pritzker's $39 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 — with one major exception.

They're uncomfortable — understandably — with Pritzker's call for another nightmarish pension holiday. The governor suggested skipping $878 million in payments to the state's public pension plans.

The plans are already underfunded by roughly $134 billion. Skipping the payments will exacerbate an already serious financial problem.

That's why some legislators are having second thoughts about doing things Pritzker's way.

Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford said she hopes to find a new revenue source to make the required pension payments. At the same time, state Rep. Kathleen Willis said House Democrats are not united around Pritzker's approach.

"I think we all want to wait and see, look for possibly a better alternative to that because we don't want to repeat history," she said.

These are not rank-and-file legislators speaking. Both are members of their respective chamber's legislative teams, so what they say carries some weight.

Re Willis' references to repeating history, she's referring to the disastrous consequences of past pension holidays. A dollar not paid into the pensions one year requires multiple dollars to be contributed a few years down the road.

That's why pension holidays generally turn out to be excursions that should have been canceled.

Rhetoric aside, Willis and Lightford face a severe problem trying to balance the issues of pension payments and paying for other state programs. Putting another nearly $878 million in the pensions means finding that money elsewhere or reducing other spending programs. Unless they follow Pritzker's preferred path of least resistance, that will require tough decisions by legislators.

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