Relieved to get pension reform in Illinois

December 4, 2013 

At last, pension reform. After years of foot-dragging and false starts, Illinois lawmakers on Tuesday put the worst-funded public pension systems in the nation on a path to fiscal solvency. If all goes as planned, the pension funds' $100 billion shortfall will be erased by 2044.

None of our metro-east lawmakers voted for the bill, but it was this or nothing. This plan, hammered out by a bipartisan committee, is infinitely better than continuing to let the $100 billion in pension debt grow and squeeze out other state spending.

Some conservatives complained the bill didn't go far enough, but the caterwauling from state employees and their unions tell you that these reforms are substantial.

The workers and their reps claim the plan will be ruled unconstitutional, but we are cautiously optimistic that the courts will allow it. The pensions themselves aren't being reduced, but rather add-ons like the overly generous COLA formula and the unreasonably low retirement age.

And bottom line: The current system is fiscally unsustainable. A constitutional pension guarantee means nothing if there isn't enough money to fund the pensions. Just ask workers in Detroit, who thought their pensions were guaranteed by their state constitution until a judge ruled otherwise.

No one was talking pension reform in Detroit 10 years ago, but we suspect a lot of workers wish someone had made incremental changes back then to ensure that pensions would be funded into the future -- what Illinois did on Tuesday.

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