Pension Reform in Illinois: A Hard Job That Springfield Wants to Ignore

-By Warner Todd Huston

Americans for Prosperity – Illinois has launched an effort to goad our lawmakers in Springfield to tackle the single most vexing problem the state faces: pension obligations.

AFP has launched a website called “Fix Illinois Pensions Now” to help inform and empower voters so that they might encourage their representatives to do the right thing and fix this mess now!

A second website to find important information can be seen at:

AFP has partnered with The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago and they have jointly produced an informative video on the effort.

AFP has also conducted a state-wide poll to gauge the public’s reaction to the pension crisis. Over 31 thousand Illinois citizens took part in the poll. Joe Calomino, AFP Illinois chapter director, has released some of the results of the poll.

  • 71% expressed concern about the amount of pension debt the State is carrying. Only 18% expressed no concern, with the remaining 11% being uncertain.
  • The ability of government workers to retire with full benefits at the age of 55 was the top issue that concerned respondents. In all, 74% chose some aspect of the State retirement benefits as an area of concern, while 19% saw no problem and 7% were uncertain.
  • 36% believe moving the minimum retirement age from 55 to 65 would be the most effective reform to implement. In all, 80% expressed a belief that reforms could be effective, with 14% believing none would be necessary and 7% having no opinion.
  • Only Chicago showed some weakness, but that is displayed more in people being uncertain rather than believing that nothing needs to be done.
  • There is little difference between results between union and non-union households when it comes to government workers’ pensions in general. Union households do not view the government pension system in the same light as their own, although there is some softness in terms of benefits.
  • While there are clear differences between Republicans, Democrats and Independents on the issues, Democrats and Independents are still open to reforming the system. But while only Republicans strongly believe government workers should pay more toward their retirement, the three factions are in lockstep in supporting pushing the retirement age to 65.
  • Younger people probably see themselves as the ones who will have to pay the heavy pension debt load in the long run. In previous polls we’ve conducted, the younger respondents have not shown as much interest in this issue as in this one. Now, with increased publicity, they are catching on.

Certainly we cannot entirely blame government employees for this mess as the final decision to continue to inflate the benefits and pay of state employees was that of our elected representatives — even as they were paid off by government unions to do so. But the fact is that many of these union represented, government employees are able to retire at 55 will full benefits, at least a full decade earlier than most Americans. Not only that but many of these state employees then go on to get other jobs with counties, the state, or local cities (or neighboring states and municipalities) and can then begin to double dip into the pension system.

At some point, becoming a state or federal employee is almost like hitting the lottery!

These benefits need to be restructured for future employees and the pension obligations that are by law required need to be paid for. Illinois government must stop stealing money from its pension funds to pay for unnecessary programs and other wild spending.

In FY2011, Illinois faces a $12 BILLION dollar structural budget deficit. More than half of that – $7 BILLION – is related to generous pension and retiree health care programs for government workers that the State simply cannot afford. These generous programs will have racked up more than $140 BILLION in debt and unfunded liabilities by the end of FY2011.

Lawmakers in Springfield are at fault for this–not government employees. Lawmakers need to hear your voice NOW. Click here to send a letter to your lawmaker and Governor Quinn.

Join AFP and the Civic Committee in helping to spread the word.

Fix Illinois Pensions Now


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  • Americans for Prosperity is a group fronting special interests started by oil billionaire David Koch and Richard Fink (a member of the board of directors of Koch Industries).

    The Commercial Club of Chicago is a group of millionaire businessmen.

    The only prosperity either group is interested in, is themselves, and getting richer at the hands of working people. The average public pension is $32,000, and many workers get a much smaller pension - and they are not covered by Social Security either.

    Every public employee made everyone of their payments into their pensions systems - they never missed a payment. The State saved billions by not having to pay the employer's 6.2% into Social Security - and by also saved billions by entirely skipping the employer's contribution into the pension system more years than not. That is why the pensions systems are hurting - because the State as the employer failed to make its share of pension payments. But instead everybody wants to blame it all on public workers. The Koch brothers and the Commercial Club of Chicago just want all workers on a race to the bottom, so the rich can get richer and the poor get poorer.

  • In reply to happy401:

    I am glad that your overlords fed you this pap to regurgitate on command. You are a good robot.

  • In reply to publiusforum:

    Ok, let

  • In reply to KirkMango:

    Kirk, I appreciate how well you explained the pension issues, which in reality extend far beyond teachers. Thank you. Has anyone really examined what some people are calling for, an increased contribution of up to 28% from our weekly pay for our pension? I am far from a CPA, but even I know a reduction of our pay in pretaxed dollars can make an effect on the states tax base drawing it down. What next in this sprial to nothing, a tax increase for the middle class workers?

  • In reply to ScottSRZ:

    I don't think anyone realizes that option they are throwing out - 28% reduction in salary??? Who could absorb that kind of reduction?

    It is a very tough situation and I think ALL, even the pensioner

  • In reply to ScottSRZ:

    What's amazing about the millionaire businessmen from Commercial Club of Chicago's effort to reduce the "sweet deal" public employees get from pension benefits is that they are reeping in MILLIONS and MILLIONS of dollars from THEIR OWN pensions.

    Here are some staggering numbers:

    Chairman of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club: Abbott Laboratories CEO Miles D. White. When he retires, he will draw on not one but two defined-benefit pensions worth a combined $20 million. All this for a guy whose company

  • In reply to Crowned:

    Wow. That was a bunch of non sequitur nonsense. These guys were in the private sector. WE aren't forced to pay their pension deals! Talk about a strawman post! You get the prize, Crown!

  • In reply to Crowned:

    Once again, it is interesting to learn that yet another group composed of wealthy individuals is attacking people who have dedicated their work lives in the service of others. These groups persist in insinuating that teachers and other professionals, custodians, maintenance workers, secretaries, food service and public safety employees, all of whom chose to work in colleges or universities because they wanted to be a part of helping people receive educations in order to better themselves, are responsible for the fiscal problems of the state of Illinois. Let

  • In reply to IRSICTBA:

    "In exchange for lower salaries"... if only that were true.

  • In reply to publiusforum:

    The plain language of the Illinois Constitution

  • In reply to Crowned:

    "As courts in this State have confirmed, this language is crystal clear. Public employees become members of a pension system at the time of hire or shortly thereafter and once they become members, their pension rights are set and cannot be

  • In reply to publiusforum:

    Ahhh, you're a plain language reader of the Constitution when it's convienent.

  • In reply to Crowned:

    So, I take it that you would agree with slavery, then? Heck it was IN the Constitution. Heck it was also in the constitutions of some of the states. Guess you are all for slavery? Good job.

  • In reply to publiusforum:

    Well, at least I got you to admit that the Constitution is an evolving document, even if it caused you to call someone you don't know a racist.

    It's comical when Republicans take a plain language position but then want to add new Amendments to change the document to get rid of federal income taxes, to rid of birthright citizen language, or to ban same sex marriages.

    Republicans have proposed at least 42 Amendments to the Constitution in the current Congress, including one to eliminate the automatic grant of citizenship to anyone born in the US.

    Republicans should stop making the "framers intended" arguments when they have requested nearly double the Amendmentrs to the document than Democrats have in the current Congress.

  • In reply to Crowned:

    I said nothing about you being a racist. You have pretty thin skin, apparently.

    And I never said that the Constitution is set in stone. That is another left-winger's trope that they try to tar conservatives with.

    The US Constitution was meant to be changed. But there is a process to it. YOU guys want to do it by judicial fiat or Obama Executive orders.

    As to the state constitutions, they are a far, far different animal than the US constitution. Not one of them are the law of the land and they all have all sorts of odd little conventions inserted into them over the years (for better or worse... usually worse).

  • In reply to publiusforum: is running expensive full-page ads in Chicago and costly media spots around the state promoting a lot of misleading information. These ads largely focus on what they claim are excessive pensions earned by state employees. Americans for Prosperity paid for a highly biased survey, again largely asking questions designed to mislead you about these

  • In reply to IRSICTBA:

    Great Response!!! Would like to know more about the states that looked at or adopted the 401-k type plans and found them to be ineffective.

  • In reply to publiusforum:

    Which overlords did you get fed your pap that you regurgitate all over this web page is the question.
    Although I am a conservative, as my husband is, and have voted Republican, I also realize the poster has gotten much of the situation correct. You see my husband is also a non-union, state employee.

  • In reply to happy401:

    There are a lot of figures floating around out there. The $32,000 average annual pension for an Illinois state worker I used may not be totally accurate.

    The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (CTBA)reports that the average annual pension benefit for a retired Illinois public employee is $17,112 per year. A lot of state employees where I work only make between $20,000 to $25,000 per year, and if they put in their 30 to 35 years, they will get a pension of around $17,000, with no social security. And they have paid 8% of every paycheck into their pension fund. But the State rarely paid their annual share into the fund as the State was supposed to.

    It would be like if an employee in the private sector had social security taken out of each of their checks - but their employer wasn't paying the employer's share into Social Security. And so then the employee was told that because his employer failed to pay the employer's share, the employee is going to have to make up the difference by making the employee having to double what is taken out of their check for Social Security.

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