Well, it is done. But it must only be Step One.
We're not the first to make that declaration, nor will we be the last.
There should be no victory laps here. The state's finances remain a colossal mess, a coming court challenge will drag on and delay savings and there are plenty of smart people out there who remain skeptical about whether the numbers will add up, whether future lawmakers will stick to the 30-year pension plan, and whether the numbers are based on overly optimistic investment returns and more.
We understand those concerns and the skepticism. Still, something desperately needed doing or we'd have been another two years away from another remotely achievable attempt at reform. Our credit ratings would have dropped again and our cost to borrow would have spiked again, if we were loaned money at all.
It is no small irony, also as others have noted, that the historic vote for a $160 billion pension reform bill occurred on Illinois' 195th birthday, at the same time some businesses nearly got tax breaks approved, and on the day the city of Detroit got the OK to proceed with bankruptcy.
So again, Step One. Here are 10 more steps for our politicians beyond the first step toward pension reform approved Tuesday that we believe will be needed to put Illinois back on a path to economic health that guarantees a brighter future for us all:
1. Make the promised yearly contributions to the pension funds required by this plan.
2. Quit spending more than they take in, driving up our debt.
3. Pay down our other debt. As of this writing, the state owes good people who have provided good services $5.5 billion. Illinois, and therefore, we the people, have not paid 122,853 bills we owe for work already done. That must stop.
4. Don't raise income taxes. Illinois could see a more than $5 billion dip in revenues in a little more than a year when the "temporary" income tax increase reverts to 3.75 percent from 5 percent. Pension reform in its first year could produce $1.2 billion in savings. Will it come in time to help? Whether it does or not, lawmakers must turn over rocks to find more cost savings and efficiencies to avoid future tax increases. Pension reform does not let them off that hook.
5. Insist that pension calculations and contributions continue to be based on actuarial data and current, longer lifespans.
6. Demand realistic rates of return on the pension fund investments too. We've all lived through the recession and we know 8 percent is pretty darned rosy most years.
7. Quit handing out corporate tax breaks and approve a fairer, simpler job creation and attraction program that will help small and larger businesses grow and create jobs.
8. Keep scouring the Medicaid rolls for people who don't qualify.
9. Pay decent wages, but do not promise worker contracts we cannot afford.
10. Put policy before politics.
(We're dreamers, we know, but the first step is the hardest, right? Right? Right!)