I have heard from concerned members of the community regarding the state’s current deficit woes in dealing with the state employee retirement system. It is true that under new accounting rules, the state’s five pension systems are underfunded by more than $95 billion, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for $18 million in additional costs for each day the pension crisis is left unaddressed. Additionally, the state faces more than $54 billion in unfunded retire health care benefits for government workers and $15 billion in pension obligation bond debt.
It is necessary for state lawmakers to truly begin addressing this crisis. Government employee retirement pensions are at risk and taxpayers continue to foot the bill for a broken system. The longer the state waits to make the necessary structural changes to ensure a retirement future for its employees, the more painful the options to address the deficit become and a loftier burden is placed on taxpayers.
I want to keep you informed about some possible pension reform elements that have been involved in negotiations over the past two years. While no agreement has been reached and negotiations are ongoing, some of the proposals have included different combinations of the following ideas: raising the retirement age to 67 for employees, reducing a portion of the cost of living adjustment, increasing active member contributions over time, capping the amount of a salary used to determine benefits, affording union officials the right to sue the state if future pension obligations are not met, and moving towards a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k) in the private sector.
One major concern I have with the discussions remains the demand for a “cost shift” in Illinois teacher pensions onto the local taxpayers via their school districts. Without careful consideration, this idea could wreak havoc on local school budgets, causing the need for increases in property taxes or drastic cuts in the classroom.
There are many reasons why the state has ended up in this situation and we are no doubt at a major breaking point. Businesses are reluctant to invest in Illinois and vital programs are facing hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts next year. If we can act soon, more of our hard earned tax dollars can go to the education of our children, the transportation infrastructure that we depend on for growth, and the other vital services our state provides.
I encourage you to reach out to my office with any questions or concerns at (815) 547-3436 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, my legislative district office has recently moved, and we are no longer located at 998 Belvidere Rd., Belvidere 61108. We are now at 305 Amphitheater Drive, Rockford 61107. Your ideas and input are always appreciated.