Pensions key to turnaround

Most people see only the negatives in Illinois’ fiscal crisis; Gov. Bruce Rauner sees it as an opportunity for a seismic shift in the way Illinois does business.

“Want more money to spend on programs and services, lawmakers? Want to avoid cuts in state funding, mayors? Then support my turnaround agenda.”

Rauner was in Belleville on Friday to talk about that agenda, including to the BND editorial board. He wants to get Illinois back on the list of states where companies want to do business, and get government back to serving the taxpayers rather than special interests. His energy and enthusiasm for the task makes us think he just might pull this off.

One major component is Rauner’s plan for pension reform. Regardless of how the Illinois Supreme Court rules on the pension reforms before it, Rauner said more reform is necessary to quickly make a meaningful dent in the $111 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

He wants to move state employees who are in the crushing Cadillac Tier 1 pension plan to the more affordable Tier 2 plan, set up for employees hired starting in 2011. That would keep intact the benefits workers have already earned, which Rauner said is fair to employees and would pass judicial scrutiny. Raune’s plan would cut the state’s pension contribution in the new fiscal year by $2.2 billion compared with $1.1 billion with the reforms being challenged in court.

Lawmakers would never consider this drastic a change in good times, but these are desperate times for the state. Continuing to feed the pension beast for state workers and teachers means the rest of Illinois will go without. State government spends almost 25 cents of every $1 on pensions, which means less money for roads, social services, education and everything else government provides.

If we are going to be able to afford essential government services in Illinois, major pension reform needs to happen this sping’s legislative session.