In less than a month, the Illinois Pension Modernization Task Force will present to the General Assembly and Gov. Quinn its recommendations for reforming the state's pension system. The issue has attracted a good deal of attention over the past few weeks, thanks in large ...
In less than a month, the Illinois Pension Modernization Task Force will present to the General Assembly and Gov. Quinn its recommendations for reforming the state's pension system. The issue has attracted a good deal of attention over the past few weeks, thanks in large part to a Sun-Times series that detailed isolated cases of abuses.
This morning, Chicago Public Radio's Eight Forty-Eight hosted
a lengthy roundtable discussion exploring the flaws in the system and
the reforms that are currently being proposed. Participants included
task force chair David Vaught, Civic Federation president Laurence Msall, DePaul University economics professor Tom Mondschean, and AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer. One point on which all the guests agreed is that a large and growing unfunded pension liability is perhaps the biggest problem facing the state. Yet, most of the reforms discussed focused on reducing the size of benefits offered to new workers.
To his credit, Bayer called out the panel's other guests (namely Msall) for suggesting that overly-generous benefits are breaking the system. Indeed, as we've pointed out repeatedly, while about one percent of Illinois pensioners receive more than $100,000 per year, the large majority receive less than $25,000. Listen to this excerpt from Bayer's remarks:
BAYER: We are critical of the current system as well. But we think that the solution to the problem is to fund the pension system. The reason why the state has such a huge unfunded liability is not because the pensions are too rich. The reason is the state hasn’t fulfilled its obligations. [… ]
I don’t happen to believe that a $20,000 pension for somebody who has worked 30 years for the state unduly enriches someone. Or in the case of university and school teachers, their average pension is $30,000 a year, but they get no social security. The state makes no social security contribution on their behalf. The only pension they have is their state pension.
Now, if Mr. Msall thinks people getting a $20,000 pension are being unduly enriched, he ought to say that. But the critics never talk about the level of pension benefits, they talk about the debt. And it’s an enormous debt! But the reason we have this debt, this enormous debt, is because the state in the past hasn’t made its payments.
Co-host Allison Cuddy did a great job of moderating the exchange, so be sure to listen to the entire discussion.