Why not start removing state legislators from the taxpayer-funded gravy train?
Pandering to the public is the politician's stock in trade.
But every now and then, the pandering gets out of hand and a serious legislative proposal emerges. Or, as Springfield political pundit Rich Miller recently put it, "Maybe Pandora's Box has been opened for good."
Miller was referring to one of this year's favored campaign themes — elimination of the generous pensions paid to retired state legislators.
Attempting to put Republicans on the defensive, House Speaker Michael Madigan is championing the idea, at least publicly. It's doubtful that Madigan is serious, but roughly 20 Republicans running for the House or Senate have vowed not to sign up for the legislative pension system if they are elected in November, while another 10 Democrats running for the House or Senate have said they'll refuse a pension or work to reduce benefits.
Officially, service as a legislator is considered to be a part-time job. But their pension benefits — roughly 80 percent of their final pay after 20 years employment — are excessively generous. Some legislators manage to goose their pensions to stratospheric levels by getting higher-paying jobs in state government after leaving the General Assembly. They work briefly and then step down with an even more lavish pension. Illinois history is littered with stories of that kind of abuse of taxpayer money.
So why not pull the plug on all this unjustified generosity? For starters, Illinois is broke and can't afford it. There's also the matter of the need to address the serious financial woes of Illinois' public pensions, reforms that will require sacrifice by members of those pension systems. Why shouldn't legislators set a good example and go first?
Because of Illinois law, the Legislature can only eliminate pensions of new House and Senate members. That would make it easier for our incumbents to eliminate the pensions because they would not be affected.
Given the more than $80-billion unfunded liability of Illinois' public pensions, eliminating pensions for new legislators wouldn't save much — certainly not at the start. But the longest journey begins with but one step. Why not take it?