When the General Assembly’s one-day “special session on pensions” ended without meaningful action being taken, the obvious question was, “what’s next?”
The answer: “Most likely nothing, until after the election. Then, maybe a lot.”
After the Nov. 6 election, action on pensions seems probable if only because every member of the General Assembly, every elected state official, every mayor of every city in Illinois, the bond rating house Moody’s and a majority of Illinois voters all agree:
“The pension deficit of $83 billion is too @!#$%*# high!”
Some editorial writers, reporters and operatives for “think tanks” have devoted tons of resources over the last couple of years attacking education and educators in a crusade to eliminate teacher pensions. For them, some bad news:
We regret to inform you that your plan hasn’t worked.
Sincerely (except for the regret part),
A Normington Petts poll of 600 frequent voters, commissioned by IEA, shows that the attempts to weaken public support for educator pensions by denigrating teachers are failing. The public isn’t buying.
Nearly three-quarters of those interviewed describe teachers as “under appreciated” and nearly as many (72%) say that Illinois pubic school teachers are “well trained.” When asked to use a word to define public school teachers in Illinois, the top three answers are “good,” “dedicated” and “hard-working.” In addition, the poll, which was conducted in early August and has a margin of error of +/- 4.0%, shows:
- A majority (58 percent) of voters believe the legislature is most to blame for the current pension systems deficit with only 5 percent laying blame at the feet of teachers
- When it comes to solutions, most (58 percent) think cutting benefits to current retirees is a very bad idea. Most think closing tax loopholes for corporations (54 percent) is a better solution.
- Increasing income taxes on individuals, or raising property taxes, are not popular ideas.
The poll confirms something that IEA leaders, members and staff have been telling Governor Quinn and the members of the legislature for some time: It’s not just wrong to break a promise to people who contribute so much to our state. It’s bad politics.
Nevertheless, the 16 percent of the state budget the goes to pensions is a big number that will continue to rise unless the debt is reduced.
The We Are One Illinois pension coalition has offered a framework for dealing with the pension crisis that is fair and constitutional. In short, the state needs to:
- Guarantee the state’s pension payments will be made.
- Pursue more revenue by closing loopholes that wealthy corporations use to avoid paying their fair share.
- Leave the benefits of those already retired alone.
If those conditions are met, the coalition organizations would agree to increase the amount contributed by individuals. Read the Coalition news release. The framework is intended to help ensure that TRS, SURS and SERS participants get the pensions they’ve been promised, something far less certain if the only proposal for reducing the state’s pension debt is “cut pension benefits.”
In the next Newswatch, we’ll talk about the need for revenue.