GOVERNOR QUINN SAYS PONTIAC CORRECTION CENTER WILL STAY OPEN
Residents of Pontiac and surrounding communities are breathing a sign of relief this week as Governor Pat Quinn announced March 12 that the Pontiac Correctional Center will remain open.
Former Governor Rod Blagojevich doggedly pursued the facility’s closure despite widespread public and legislative opposition. Blagojevich insisted that closing the prison would save the state money, although figures indicated closing the Correctional Center would have little, if any, financial benefit.
The Correctional Center is a major employer in the Pontiac area, generating approximately $54.4 million annually in the region.
COMMITTEE REJECTS CONCEALED CARRY LEGISLATION
On March 10, a Senate committee rejected a proposal that would allow residents to carry concealed weapons. Senate Bill 1976 would have allowed qualified gun owners to apply for concealed carry permits, to be issued by Illinois county sheriffs.
Concealed carry laws have long been supported by downstate lawmakers, but are opposed by most Chicago and suburban legislators.
Supporters pledged to continue to pursue the legislation, which has also been introduced in the House of Representatives. Illinois is one of only two states without any form of concealed carry law.
CIVIC FEDERATION, POLICY INSTITUTE ECHO REPUBLICAN CONCERNS
The Illinois Civic Federation and the Illinois Policy Institute this week released their recommendations to bring prosperity back to Illinois.
Both organizations agree with Senate Republicans – Illinois has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Since 2003, the state has consistently created and expanded programs using one-time revenues and short- term gimmicks, including raiding the pension systems, borrowing, raiding special state funds and selling state assets.
The Illinois Civic Federation urged legislative leaders and Governor Quinn to cap or reduce state spending; warned against income tax increases for new spending; and urged lawmakers to consider a capital improvement proposal that identifies and prioritizes projects before capital funds are appropriated.
The Illinois Policy Institute wants to increase government transparency and oversight, cut wasteful spending and impose new, more stringent limitations on tax and fee increases.
REFORMS NEEDED AS MARKETS, CORRUPTION TAKE TOLL ON PENSIONS
(This is part of an op-ed I sent to newspapers this week. Check my Web site at http://brady.senategop.net/to read the entire op-ed.)
2008 was a devastating year for financial institutions and personal investments throughout the world, and the Illinois pension systems are no exception. Corruption associated with the state’s five pension systems only compounded the overwhelming financial issues.
The impeachment and subsequent conviction of Governor Rod Blagojevich in January, as well as the federal government’s ongoing investigation of “pay to play” politics – better known as Operation Board Games – have brought Illinois’ pension systems into the headlines, but this is an issue that my Senate Republican colleagues and I have been fighting for more than four years. Despite widespread public and media approval, these important reforms have yet to be approved as the Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate have been playing political “ping pong” with them.
On March 10, State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias talked to the Joint Committee on Government Reform about a plan he put forward late last year that includes some of those reforms, as well as a suggestion that we merge all five pension systems.
As a member and former Republican spokesperson of the Senate Pensions and Investments Committee, and as former chairman of the House Personnel and Pensions Committee, I welcome Treasurer Giannoulias’ input and support for these reforms. Further analysis is needed, however, on his estimated savings of this merger plan.
Governor Pat Quinn has also thrown a proposal into the mix, announcing March 10 that he is considering a “two-tiered” pension system that would reduce benefits for future state employees, as a way to deal with up $73 billion in unfunded obligations to the five pension systems. Current state employees, teachers and other system members would not have their benefits affected.
Recent bad investment returns by state pension systems, on top of pension funding raids and bonding in the past few years, have lead to a crushing State budget impact that will be carried by taxpayers. Negative investment returns have pushed the State’s total pension debt to $73 billion or almost $30 billion more than we owed five years ago.
My recommendations are pretty straight forward. We must stop borrowing and pay the required payments out of our annual budgets. Any pension payments that are deferred will cost taxpayers more to make up in the future. Not only should we properly fund our pension systems to protect the retirement benefits of our teachers and others in state systems, but funding in full now means less of a burden passed onto to future taxpayers.
I am pleased that Governor Quinn is joining me in the realization that we must examine pension programs as they affect future members. We must also examine a system like a private-sector 401k model in order to protect future members, our children, our grandchildren, and now our great-grandchildren.
By working together, lawmakers from both parties, Governor Quinn and Treasurer Giannoulias can put together the best ideas to craft a solution that will address Illinois’ pension debt and help restore integrity to the system. Commonsense reforms to the state’s pension systems would not only result in greater oversight, but would ensure the state’s investments are sound and taxpayer dollars are not being squandered.