This week my fellow legislators and I returned to Springfield and, finally, passed long-awaited meaningful pension reform. It isn’t perfect, but it is good. What we passed was a reform package that will strengthen Illinois’ fiscal future by eliminating our largest-in-the-nation $100 billion pension system liability. It’s not fair that we had to ask retirees to accept a change in the way their benefits grow, but we were able to protect what they have earned.
Over the summer and into the fall I was proud to serve on the conference committee on pension reform. On Tuesday morning, we met one last time as a committee to hear the final details of the agreed reform, and send our report to the General Assembly. This report was the result of months of discussion, thorough analysis, and lively debate.
Voting for this reform was difficult; in fact it was perhaps one of the hardest votes I have cast in my time as a legislator. I will concede that it is not fair to ask state employees and teachers who have paid into the system, and who have upheld their end of the bargain, to make a sacrifice. However, over the last decade budgets that deferred pension payments and state leaders who have done nothing more than delay a resolution on this issue left us with no alternative.
It is ironic that we passed this reform on the same day that a judge ruled that the City of Detroit was eligible to declare bankruptcy. This move allows the city to drastically cut billions of dollars that are owed to city employees, retirees, investors and other creditors. These people will now receive only pennies on the dollar of what they are owed. In Illinois, we made a difficult decision yesterday, but it was one that ensured our state avoids a fate similar to that of Detroit.
What we did was vote to stabilize Illinois’ finances. We voted to ensure funding for essential services like education, public health, public safety, senior citizens programs and many others resources that Illinoisans depend on. A more fiscally stable Illinois also means a better environment for job creators to get down to the business of putting people back to work.
This reform promises to cut the state’s pension payments by $160 billion over the next 30 years, freeing up resources to meet other critical demands. Taxpayers would save about $1.5 billion in the first year alone which is a 20 percent reduction from the required payment under current law.
This reform was not perfect, no reform is, but it was good and I think we can be proud of the great leap forward we have taken toward ensuring a strong, fiscally sound future for the generations of Illinoisans to come.