The respected Illinois Policy Institute today is backing a pension reform measure before the Illinois General Assembly that includes a provision to shift payments to public school teacher pensions from the state to local school districts.
A version of a reform bill has been blessed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, to whom Gov. Pat Quinn defers on all matters. (Quinn’s role is union puppet). Madigan’s bill includes the Institute-championed shift in pension obligations, but it is not fostering a bi-partisan atmosphere in Springfield. In fact, Madigan’s sudden appetite for pension reform, after three decades of pension fund abuse, has aroused suspicion and fury.
The fury is now a YouTube must-see clip featuring Republican Rep. Mike Bost (IL-115), who represents a district in southwestern IL that includes Carbondale.
Bost’s 90-second tirade as he was surrounded in the chamber by expressionless fellow lawmakers, is not, as some might expect, a rebuttal of reform. It is completely inspired by Bost’s exasperation toward Madigan’s hijacking of the legislative process to ram home a bill in the final hours of the current session.
Bost, an ex-Marine who has represented the region since 1995 and is thus well versed in Madigan’s iron-fisted reign of taxing and spending, lashed out at “total power in one person’s hands — not the American way.”
Along with House minority leader Tom Cross (IL-84), Bost and fellow Republicans (and, he insists, numerous Democrats) are concerned that the timing of Madigan’s bill — it landed in the chamber at 7:50 a.m. Tuesday, overriding all other reform plans — is designed to quell floor debate and give Madigan cover with his all powerful union allies.
The concern is rooted in observing Madigan’s tactics for 30 years, and the distinct possibility that shifting pension obligations to school districts does not actually reform pension addiction. Voices of dissent say the answer to ending bloated pension obligations is to demand that teachers pay into their pensions out of their own compensation.
Cross said Madigan’s “shift” is not a solution but a “poison pill” designed to derail a bipartisan roadmap toward true pension reform in a state that is drowning in unfunded pension obligations.
“If we were really going to do pension reform that included teachers, where are they?” said Cross Tuesday in front of the cameras, noting that past efforts to reform pensions have attracted thousands of protesting teachers to the statehouse. “What’s (Madigan) really up to?”
“We live in a democracy,” Bost shouted during his floor rant. “But not here (in Illinois). Not here!”
Lost in all of the high drama is the need for serious, effective reform. The Policy Institute makes a sound case for shifting the burden of teacher pension funding, if for no reason other than this: public school teachers are not state employees.
The Institute’s Collin Hitt, senior director of government affairs, testified in Springfield:
“Teacher pension costs represent half of the crushing unfunded liabilities (at $83 billion and counting) that are bankrupting Illinois. A simple idea has emerged: Transition to a system where school districts are responsible for their district’s pension costs going forward.”
It is a simple and potentially effective idea, but Illinois Republicans are wise to be leery of this panacea. The same unions Madigan empowers as influencers of the legislative process would, no doubt, quickly divert resources to the school districts to impede pension reform by another group of elected officials.