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Which Legislators Are Standing With Whom on Pension Reform?

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State Sen. Linda Holmes wasted little time responding after the Chicago Tribune editorial board criticized her for voting and speaking passionately against the plan that would get Illinois closest to fixing its pension debt problem.

In a letter, Holmes wrote, "I just wanted to let you know that I'm standing with you and won't be bullied by an entity that would just as soon see teachers and other public sector workers in the breadline just to satisfy the bottom line."

Was that a letter to constituents? Well, yes, some of them. Those who are union members. Holmes' letter demonstrates she is most worried about losing the support of teachers and other public employees. She is most worried, actually, about ending up out of office and in a breadline herself.

She should be most worried about all of her constituents suffering as the state is forced to funnel more and more money to the pension systems.

Union management has done a masterful job of messaging. A masterful job of persuasion. They have convinced many, many of their members that only politicians are to blame for the pension debt. In fact, union management agreed to, supported and signed off on the 2005 pension holiday.

But, on this day, when it appears probable legislators are going to waste another $20,000 convening in Springfield to not accomplish a pension fix, it's time to quit looking in the rear-view mirror. It's time we all face the future.

Here's the irony: That future for teachers and other public employees surely will include a breadline if pension reform isn't approved. The future will include bleakness for our children and grandchildren as school funding is cut, roads crumble and more union members lose their jobs as prisons and other operations close to funnel more and more into pension funds that require 3 percent, compounded cost-of-living increases for retirees each year.

Dick Ingram, the head of the Teachers Retirement System, has said that system will be insolvent in 16 years if changes are not made. A state cannot legally file for bankruptcy, but make no mistake, we're headed the way of Detroit, where an emergency manager is offering to pay pennies back on outstanding millions of dollars in bills it owes.

Union managers, Holmes and other Senate Democrats who voted against the pension plan insist that the union-backed plan is the only acceptable solution, but the fact is that independent actuaries have said that plan will only save half the money of the plan that curtails compounded cost-of-living increases.

The union-backed plan will have us all facing this dilemma again in a much quicker time frame.

There also are eight Senate Republicans who opposed the pension solution that would save taxpayers the most money, including Dale Righter of Mattoon, Chapin Rose of Champaign and Sam McCann of Springfield.

Those who oppose the pension plan that will best reform the system generally fall into two camps. They either are politicians who are more worried about losing the union manpower and financial support they get to secure their re-elections or they are politicians who believe government should operate just like the private sector and that public employees should all be given self-managed 401(k)s.

To be sure, many of those most directly affected by this problem lose sight of the fact that many Illinoisans in the private sector already sacrificed pay during the recession. They lost company contributions to their 401(k)s years ago. Or they lost their jobs altogether. And every single taxpayer has been chipping in billions more since the 2011 temporary income tax increase to pay for pensions.

It's time to face the future and find a solution that saves more money and addresses unsustainable, compounded, 3 percent cost-of-living increases. It's time to truly fix the system.

Those who believe all public employees should have 401(k)s, need to face the reality that that's not going to fly in a state run by Democratic supermajorities. Those who believe the union plan is the only legal solution need to face the reality that that plan just does not compute. More difficult sacrifice will be required to guarantee there will be enough money in 16 years to provide retirement income to teachers and all the other hard-working public service employees.

Accepting that reality and voting for it is, in fact, truly standing up for teachers, for prison guards, for state office workers and, yes, for every single taxpayer our officials were elected to represent.