A new television spot aimed at pension reform for state employees made its debut Wednesday.
The spot, sponsored by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, is part of the group's "Illinois Is Broke" campaign, which also includes a billboard as well as print and radio advertisements. The group, which represents some of the state's largest corporations, says that the state needs to take a close look at its pension obligations and abuses, such as "double-dipping," or risk forcing the state's "children to pay" in the future.
"Illinois faces a $140 billion debt in retirement-related obligations and simply does not have the money to meet them," Ty Fahner, the committee's president, said in a statement.
"This issue impacts every person in Illinois, and the problem grows larger each day we fail to act," Fahner continued. "If the legislature does not pass pension reform for current employees this session, another $7+ billion in taxpayer dollars will be lost to political timidity."
The spot features a woman answering the front door of her home, a small child in her arms. The voice of the unseen man at her door, whose voice vaguely resembles that of a certain state's governor, tells her that, "Our retirement plans are $140 billion short, so we need some of your money ... We need $30,000." When the woman contests that "that's nuts" because she already paid her taxes, the voice continues, ominously, "I wasn't talking to you," as the camera zooms in on the child's face.
Earlier this year, NBC Chicago's Edward McClelland took a look at the facts the committee is relying on in their ongoing campaign against public employees' pensions. The campaign, McClelland noted, "rightly points out that Illinois has the most underfunded pension system in the U.S., at 51 percent." However, he continued, the campaign unfairly says that the state's public employees earn such a "sweet deal" through retirement benefits that are better than 95 percent of workers statewide.
Further, McClelland noted in a follow-up blog that the campaign's authors, themselves, earn some incredibly "sweet deals" when it comes to pensions. The club's chairman, Miles D. White, will be drawing on two pensions most recently estimated to be worth $20.2 million. Other members of the Civic Committee earn annual pensions ranging between $220,000 and $1.4 million annually.
As of early last month, the state owes money on 166,000 unpaid bills worth an estimated $5 billion dating back to last year, according to an AP analysis. Though Democratic Governor Pat Quinn has raised income taxes and reduced spending to try and alleviate the state's budget woes, pension costs are seen as still overwhelming the state's finances.
In September, a new report released by the Civic Federation, non-partisan government research organization, had a similarly dire take on the state's financial health. Laurence Msall, federation president, stated that, although the state's budget has "somewhat improved" in recent years, "the State's finances have not been fixed" and the budget deficit will remain about $8.3 billion short by the fiscal year's end next June.
Msall, too, isolated pension obligations as the state's number-one obstacle to getting on solid ground financially.
"This budget plainly demonstrates the need for further pension reform by the State of Illinois," Msall said last month. "Neither dramatic increases in revenue nor painful cuts to appropriations were enough to offset the increased costs imposed on the State by its underfunded pensions."
In response to the Civic Committee's campaign and support of pension-reforming Senate Bill 512, an analysis by Buck Associates claimed the group's plan would cost Illinois taxpayers more than $34 billion, in addition to decimating much-needed retirement money for public school teachers, firefighters and other public employees.