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Our View: Quinn should own up to the pension issue

Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget address Wednesday showed once again that the governor would rather point the finger than lead on the issue of pension reform.

Quinn repeatedly blamed members of the General Assembly for failure to reform the state’s five pension systems, the mismanagement of which has led to a $97 billion unfunded liability. He implored them to act.

“What are you waiting for?” he asked.

Taxpayers have been asking that for years.

Inept leadership and an unwillingness to touch an issue that likely will cost some lawmakers their seats in the Legislature are the main reasons why reform hasn’t happened.

Quinn should own this issue. If he could issue an executive order to reform pensions, what would he do? The time for proposals is over: Lawmakers need to settle on which proposals already out there are acceptable and move forward.

He mentioned Wednesday two ideas we support: adjusting the annual cost of living hike so it isn’t a 3 percent compounding increase every year, and making sure the state pays its full share of the pension obligation each year.

Add in bumping up the retirement age, and having employees contribute more toward their pensions (and not simply “adjust” the amount, as Quinn suggested) and we’ve got some real reform that would save money.

Instead, Quinn has proved incapable of leading the state through the biggest issue facing the state in a generation. How many times has he set a “hard deadline” and demanded action, just to see it pass by with no consequences for failing (again) to reform systems that cost taxpayers $17 million a day?

That’s not to say the state’s representatives and senators are blameless. Far from it. One person cannot be blamed for the growing, unfunded pention liability in Illinois. Legislators have shown they care more about the next election than the ramifications of their inaction.

Quinn called his proposal the most difficult budget he’s ever had to submit. That will be true until next year when, if reform isn’t enacted, we’ll be in even worse shape.

The sad truth is, until reform is enacted, pensions will dictate everything else in our budgets. We can’t afford new initiatives – economic, educational or otherwise – until there’s a resolution.

Getting the state’s fiscal house in order is the only focus lawmakers should have this session. It’s going to be excruciatingly hard. Tough decisions will have to be made.

But the majority of the pain those decisions will cause will not be borne by them. Think of the children in your life who will be on the receiving end of $400 million less in education funding if Quinn’s budget is approved – a truth he failed to share during his half-hour speech.

The only hurt lawmakers might feel is if they’re not elected the next time their name appears on a ballot. And given the pain they have and continue to inflict on the people of this state, they’re lucky if that’s the worst they suffer.

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