Too little trust in cost-shifting plan
Herald-News editorial August 10, 2012 10:08PM
Updated: September 13, 2012 6:19AM
Forced into it by Gov. Pat Quinn, the General Assembly will convene Friday for a special session to try to pass comprehensive pension reform. Its chances are not good.
The best we can hope for is the House approving measures to cut costs for two of the state’s five pension systems, those for legislators and state workers. The Senate OK’d those changes in May, and House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) says he will call for a vote on the bill this week.
Passing the bill would signal to voters and the national credit rating agencies that lawmakers are serious about addressing Illinois’ roughly $83 billion long-term pension debt. State leaders are anxious to avoid a further drop in the state’s already low ratings.
As we’ve said before, anything more substantive will have to wait until after the Nov. 6 election because pension reform is a political minefield, especially in light of all House and Senate seats being up for election in newly drawn districts.
Quinn and Madigan continue to push for a controversial shift in funding the biggest pension system, that for suburban and downstate teachers, by having school districts pay for these pensions (about $640 million a year) rather than the state. It’s the main obstacle to overall reform because Republicans and some Democrats oppose the idea — believing it would increase property tax bills and mire them in political quicksand.
In a teleconference with the Herald-News editorial board, state budget director Jerry Stermer defended the cost-shift plan, saying that requiring school districts to pay for teacher pensions would force them to be more prudent with their payrolls.
Stermer said the plan would not boost tax bills because the shift would occur over 12 years and the districts’ extra costs would be offset by the state being able to provide more general aid to schools.
That requires faith the state would give more money to schools, something it has failed to do for many years. Illinois is last among the 50 states in state share of school funding. Quinn and Madigan are saying, trust us. Sorry, history says we can’t.