No ducking big issues any longer
Herald-News editorial April 25, 2012 10:40PM
Updated: May 28, 2012 8:57AM
After years of acting like ostriches on Illinois’ growing financial crisis, state legislators appear to finally understand the day of reckoning is here, and they’ll have to do something to reform the state’s Medicaid and pension systems.
Gov. Pat Quinn last week showed some long-awaited political backbone in outlining his reform plans for both, and the outcry was both predictable and loud from various interests unhappy with some portions of the proposals.
It’s now up to the Legislature to sort through Quinn’s Medicaid and pension plans and decide what it can stomach and what it can’t, but don’t expect any action until after the November election. These two issues are political TNT and seen as far too dangerous to address while voters can still get their hands on voting machines.
But the increasing severity of these funding shortfalls and the looming threat of a bigger downgrade of the state’s bond rating compel action. The need for reform is no longer debatable.
Illinois spends about $15 billion a year for Medicaid and will be about $2.7 billion short in funding for fiscal 2012-13. And its long-term shortage in its pension funds is a mind-numbing $80 billion or so.
Quinn’s Medicaid plan calls for deep cuts in programs and services to save about $1.35 billion and a $675 million rate cut for Medicaid providers. On the revenue side, he wants a cigarette tax hike of $1 per pack that would raise $675 million when you include federal matching funds.
As for pensions, Quinn proposes raising the retirement age, boosting employee contributions and limiting cost-of-living raises for pensioners — while debate rages on whether much of his plan is unconstitutional. And he wants to stick local school districts with much of the bill.
Finding compromise on these complex issues amid Springfield’s political thicket might seem unlikely. But there’s no other choice.