On a range of issues, our state faces tough problems that can only be solved by stakeholders and elected officials working together. The new pension reform legislation, Senate Bill 2404, shows the way.
This bill tackles head-on one of the state's longest-running crises: The pension debt owed to teachers, police, nurses, caregivers and other public servants for their retirement savings now and in the future.
SB 2404 was developed with the leadership of Senate President John Cullerton, who brought to the table We Are One Illinois, the coalition of unions that represent more than 1 million public employees and retirees statewide.
The bill was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the Illinois Senate. Forty senators -- more than two-thirds of the chamber, including Republicans from the Chicago suburbs, Champaign and Springfield together with nearly all Democrats -- voted to approve it.
There are very good reasons why SB 2404 has support from legislators of both parties and every part of the state, as well as the endorsement of the union coalition.
First, the bill correctly diagnoses the problem and ensures it can never happen again. Because the pension debt was caused by politicians who for decades skipped or shorted payments to the retirement systems, SB 2404 includes an ironclad guarantee to prevent future misuse of funds.
Second, to ease future pressures on the state budget, it dedicates revenue specifically to retire the pension debt through the creation of a Pension Stabilization Fund.
Third, it saves taxpayers $46 billion that won't have to be paid to the retirement systems in the coming years.
And last but not least, it achieves its $46 billion in savings in a way that is fair to the public servants whose retirement depends on their modest pension. It asks every public employee and retiree to share in the sacrifice, such as by setting aside 2 percent more from every paycheck, delaying by two or three years the cost-of-living adjustment that ensures their retirement income will keep pace with inflation, or opting out of the retiree health insurance program.
These compromises were extremely difficult for our union coalition to make. But public employees are problem solvers by trade -- the teachers, first responders, caregivers and protectors we all turn to in times of need, those who rush to help when others flee. We have always said we want to help solve the pension problem, but we can't do it alone. By rejecting the extreme approach of drastic unilateral cuts, and by allowing each person to make the choice that's best for themselves and their family, SB 2404 is responsible, constitutional and fair.
The process that produced this fair pension solution was complex. The compromise is a fragile one. So as SB 2404 now goes to the House of Representatives, lawmakers should not tinker and make changes to the fair pension bill passed by the Senate. Instead, the House should join in passing--and Governor Quinn should quickly sign -- this bipartisan, shared solution and move Illinois forward without delay.