Illinois's elected Democrat leaders are the road block to reform 99% of the time.
Today is the 1% of the time the GOP is falling over its own feet to block reform.
State leaders are expected to enact limited pension reform in the next 48 hours that will curb the cost-of-living increases for many state retirees. It is not a dramatic reform since the fundamental pension system will not change, but it helps contain the long term cost curve and is the first real step toward pension reform that has been undertaken in recent memory.
However, Democrats in Springfield also wanted to change the way public school teacher pensions are paid for. Here in Chicago, property tax payers must pay the burden of the Chicago Public Schools pension payouts. It is a big burden on Chicago families but at least the people who elect the negotiators also pay the taxes on the resulting deals.
The vast majority of school districts in Illinois do not pay their own teacher pensions. Local officials negotiate the generous pension terms and then send the bill to the state so the rest of the population has to pick up the cost.
This system primarily punishes Chicagoans since they are basically paying a portion of pensions in suburban and downstate school districts in addition to the entire CPS pension payout.
The set-up also punishes school districts that negotiate fair pension terms. Under the current system, they are still paying for school districts that negotiate poor terms because their tax money is pooled in Springfield and distributed statewide regardless of how botched a district pension fund may be.
Suburban and downstate taxpayers are giving away much more generous pension deals then they can afford to pay and sending the difference to Chicagoans and well-run school districts to pay for.
The districts benefiting most from this unfair system are in strongholds for the GOP. Thus, some elected GOP state reps and senators have lost their spines and have now decided that cutting state spending is not so important.
If suburban and downstate school districts would like to payout such lavish teacher pensions, they should pay for it. You negotiate deal, you live with the deal.
It is worth noting that the Illinois Policy Institute has studied this issue extensively and concluded that the largest state benefits actually go to the wealthiest school districts in Chicago's north and western suburbs. Thus, lower income school districts would not be hit very hard with the new funding method. In fact, IPI concluded that 482 school districts in Illinois would actually incur no new costs from the new pension system if they eliminated the perk of having teachers pay nothing toward their own pension.
I am constantly disgusted watching Democrats kneel to special interests, shirking the right choice for the politically convenient one and never showing courage in confronting the state's major problems.
Sadly, on the issue of teacher pension reform, I am feeling that disgust for my own party leaders.
I always saw Minority Leader Tom Cross and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno as prudent public officials seeking to be responsible in an irresponsible state capital.
On most issues, they demonstrate their courage.
On this one, they are sending a bad message: "Screw the other guy, I want mine and I don't care if my selfishness costs the state its future."
It is the same selfish mentality that public sector unions use in refusing to give up any lavish benefit.
It is the same philosophy that some on entitlement and welfare programs use to justify their abuse of the system.
By passing up this opportunity to show leadership and courage, state GOP leaders are giving up the high ground on future negotiations with special interest groups who have their hands in the state cookie jar.
This teacher pension proposal can and should be considered separate from the current pension bill. However, shifting pension costs to the units of government that incur them is a good, fair and responsible policy that requires a tough choice from GOP leaders. It is a vote that would solidify the GOP standing as Illinois's only principled party.
Filed under: State Government