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Illinois pension reform should start with a legislative pledge

    The following is an adaption of remarks by Ted Dabrowski during Wirepoints’ “Coalition of Conservative Reformers Pledge to Refuse Legislative Pension” press conference on Aug. 22.
    Illinois has the nation’s worst pension crisis, so it needs the boldest reforms in the nation.
    But nothing has happened since the modest reform plan SB1 was struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court.
    Change has to come from the legislature. And the only way Illinoisans can ensure action from the legislature is to change lawmakers’ attachment to the state’s failed pension systems.
    Today, Wirepoints introduces a new policy initiative: We call upon all legislative candidates and newly-elected legislators to pledge they will not accept a legislative pension.
    Currently, lawmakers are conflicted from passing real reforms because they are beholden to a pension system that enriches them. It’s a system – along with the nation’s 5th highest salaries – that incentivizes lawmakers to become career politicians.
    We don’t need career politicians. We need lawmakers who defend taxpayers and who are committed to making Illinois a more prosperous state.
    Being an Illinois lawmaker is essentially a part-time position. The problem is the highest paid lawmakers are often the ones with the most lucrative private sector jobs. If you look at some of the positions many legislators hold, they’re enriching themselves in both the public and private sector.
    It’s not fair that these politicians – these part-time public servants – receive a guaranteed retirement from taxpayers who have no guarantee themselves.
    Worse, Illinois politicians haven’t done their jobs for years. They haven’t balanced the budget in nearly two decades. The state is just one notch from the embarrassment of a junk bond rating. No state has ever been rated junk before. And our pension systems are collapsing and threatening the solvency of the state.
    What’s most galling of all is the system that legislators set up for themselves. The General Assembly Retirement System is the worst off fund in the state.
    It’s just 15 percent funded. If GARS wasn’t bailed out by taxpayers each year, it would be bankrupt. It only has enough assets to last a little more than two years. Legislative pensions should be an embarrassment to each and every lawmaker.
    The first step: Pensions are the state’s most urgent financial problem, and change starts with leadership. We need our newest legislators to not be beholden to the same system that’s created the mess in Illinois.
    That’s why Wirepoints has put together a pledge that candidates can sign to show their commitment to bringing an end to legislative pensions.
    We’re working with State Representatives Jeanne Ives and Tom Morrison, who for years have provided leadership in supporting pension reforms – and who themselves refused to accept a pension when they joined on – to identify candidates on both sides of the aisle who will make this commitment.
    Fortunately, some courageous candidates have already signed the pledge:
    Ammie Kessem, candidate for state representative, House District 19
    Marilyn Smolenski, candidate for state representative, House District 55
    Craig Wilcox, candidate for state senator, Senate District 32
    Alyssia Benford, candidate for state representative, House District 98
    They join about 50 other legislators who have already rejected a taxpayer-funded pension.
    They should be commended. It’s an essential first step toward real reform.
    Ted Dabrowski is president of Wirepoints, an independent research, commentary and news organization focusing on Illinois issues.

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