Letter: It’s time to stop the misstatements and misdirection

By on March 28, 2013

Illinois faces a pension liability conservatively placed at $95 billion.

Governor Pat Quinn and his legislative leaders have finally recognized the problems caused by years of offering too many pension sweeteners without meeting state funding obligations. It is unfortunate that their rhetoric has—so far—not been accompanied by action. Quinn has neither produced his own plan nor rounded up votes for other plans, and quite frankly, I’m getting fed up.

Further clouding the issue are claims by House Speaker Michael Madigan that suburban and downstate school districts are receiving a “free lunch” from the state in terms of paying teachers’ pensions costs. The Speaker and other Chicago leaders are pushing a proposal to shift those pension payments from the state to K-12 school districts outside of Chicago, community colleges and state universities.

That could be a reasonable solution, under the right conditions. But at a March 13 press conference, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno refuted the Speaker’s “free lunch”
claims. An in-depth analysis of state funding for education shows that Chicago Public Schools account for roughly 18 percent of Illinois’ public schoolchildren, but receive about $772 million additional state funding each year through special considerations and grant lines. Meanwhile, suburban and downstate schools receive $104 million in special consideration and grant funding to educate 82 percent of Illinois’ students.

It’s time to stop the misstatements and misdirection. If Governor Quinn, Speaker Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton can’t fix this problem, then it is time to let the rest of us come to the table with our ideas. I think it is time we follow private industry’s lead, and move government pensions to a defined contribution plan from the current defined benefit plan system, which has gotten us into so much trouble. The Illinois Policy Institute has just proposed such a plan. Their plan is the best solution to our unfunded liability that I have seen.

Jim Oberweis
Illinois state senator, 25th District