Has the Illinois Republican Party now become the defenders of public employee pensions?
Of course not.
But Democratic Party Governor JB Pritzker has thrown them a big old softball pitch to swing at with his plans for public employee pensions.
In the words of the great bard, Pete Seeger – whose 100th birthday we celebrate next week – when will they ever learn.
The road to so-called pension reform is littered with the road kill of Democrats who thought cutting contractual and guaranteed pension benefits could be done without a cost to their political lives.
Governor Pat Quinn. Representative Elaine Nekritz. Senator Dan Biss. Cook County board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Should I go on?
Pritzker’s proposal includes extending the repayment ramp by seven years, cutting somewhere around a million dollars a year in state payments and hoping that a future graduated income tax will provide an increase in the revenue stream for pensions.
Of course none of these proposals address the unfunded 133.4 billion dollar pension liability.
Pension holidays. A holiday is what Illinois politicians call failure to pay what they owe. It is one of the things that got us into this mess in the first place.
The ramp is what they call the repayment schedule of the unfunded liability while skipping payments. It is not the same a reamortizing the liability which would increase the payments up front rather than delaying repayment by seven years.
The TRS board of trustees recently criticized the Governor’s plan.
“The system is at a growing risk of insolvency in the event of an economic downturn. This danger is the direct result of eight decades of state contributions that always have fallen far short of actuarially based funding. TRS long-term investment returns consistently exceed the system’s expectations; but investment income alone will not be enough to prevent insolvency.”
The problem for Illinois Democrats is that they are seen by many public employees as the Party of pension theft.
It was Democratic Party Chairman and Speaker of the Illinois House, Michael Madigan who led Democrats in creating Tier II and in passing the bill that cut retirement benefits.
That bill was challenged in court and ruled unconstitutional in a unanimous ruling of the Illinois Supreme Court.
Pritzker ran as a pro-working people’s candidate. After 100 days in office, he still claims to be one.
To some degree, Pritzker has done good. He wants credit for raising the state’s minimum wage. He wants credit for passing anti-right to work legislation. He is pushing for a graduated income tax.
He’s not Bruce Rauner.
But as long as his proposals for pensions include things like more pension holidays, he runs the risk of solidifying the Illinois Democratic Party’s brand as the Party of pension theft.
Handing the ILGOP a gift.