Daily Herald
First steps to solve pension crisis
Daily Herald Editorial Board
Published: 4/28/2010 12:00 AM

This could be the year Illinois legislators make their payment to the state pension systems, rein in pension excesses and demonstrate their commitment to carving away at a $78 billion debt they've spent decades ignoring.

This could be the year local school boards develop the backbone to do away with huge end-of-career employee pay boosts that have no other purpose than to force pensions artificially high and deepen taxpayers' obligations.

Or it could be the year elected officials bow to short-term political expediency and once again push off the difficult task of dealing with pensions, leaving the large-scale financial fallout on the heads of our children's generation.

Wouldn't that be some lesson for our schoolkids?

In a four-part series ending today, the Daily Herald focused on public school teachers and administrators - a group that accounts for $44 billion of the state's pension debt - to show how legislators' and school boards' lack of accountability drove the Illinois pension system to the brink of disaster. And it's not just a disaster for pensioners. While the state's on the hook for that money, every program from schools to social services to public safety gets dragged along.

Today, writer Robert McCoppin examines an array of proposed fixes. Homing in on the state's transgressions, they focus on tax increases, benefits cuts, a state budget freeze and privatizing certain state assets like the Illinois Tollway. It's possible some combination of them all ultimately will come into play to fix such a grand-scale mess.

They give solid, nuts-and-bolts suggestions, but there's more that we crave from Gov. Pat Quinn and the legislature. With the deadline on the state budget approaching, we want tough and responsible decisions on where to cut. Lawmakers are not even close to making the case taxpayers should give more.

Then, legislators, make this year's payment to the pension fund. It's $3.7 billion, a huge amount of money that would put the state on course to control the pension deficit by 2045. Show us you care more about the state's long-term health than about your next election campaign.

For the school boards: Step back and consider how you bought into the justification of granting 30 percent or 40 percent raises in administrators' final four years of work, then handing the bill for the inflated pension over to the state and the taxpayers. Not only the egregious practice, but the complicit mindset, must end.

For administrators and teachers: Understand the hardships taxpayers face. There are solutions that don't involve tax hikes; help find them.

And for the voters: Get the facts. Angry slogans and epithets are the easy way out, but if you want a solution take the time to get informed. Go to a school board meeting. Meet and read about statewide candidates in the Nov. 2 election. Ask them where they stand on pension funding and the state's finances. You've got six months.